Outcome of the meeting with refugees in Goma held at our office on Sunday April 11th, 2021.
The Agenda was as following:
General information about refugees,
Who is a refugee?
Forming the groups
1. The opening prayer was done by a volunteer from the participants who is one among the refugee religious leaders,
2. Opening remarks
The opening remarks were done by a representative from Global Refugee Leaders Form who was also at the same time the chair of the meeting and reminded the participants the following:
Refugees were informed about the key objectives of the weekly meetings focusing on the promotion and advocacy on the following points which were suggested by refugees as priorities during our previous meetings:
To educate refugees about their rights and responsibilities,
To promote the unity among refugees for the common vision and common focus,
To promote the visibility of the situation of refugees in Eastern D.R.Congo,
To advocate for humanitarian relief aid to all refugees in North Kivu (shelter, food, healthcare, education, livelihood, and security in terms of protection)
To advocate for the durable solutions (local integration, voluntary repatriation and resettlement to the third country).
3. General information about refugees
One among our strategic Plan Activities is to hold regular meetings with refugees in Goma so that we can help them think critically, develop various leaders among themselves, fight ignorance amongst refugees and help them to know where they can get services.
Our meetings with refugees are held every Sunday from our offices starting at 2pm, and today the meeting started at 2:30 pm. The majority of the participants were women who composed at least 60%, then men who were 39% and only 4 were young people. The total number of the participants in the meeting this Sunday were 36 people which was almost the double of those who attend last Sunday.
Almost 90% of the participants surprisingly came from Karisimbi and Goma Urban Divisions which are supposed to be covered by UNHCR partners in terms of humanitarian services and relief aid yet many are not beneficiaries of this aid and they do not know how to access it. Two women came with their children who are suffering from malnutrition and wanted us to help them but we could not do much.
The meeting started by a concern about the situation of refugees in Kenya who are being chased away from the camps by the government of Kenya. Information was shared about why Kenya wants these refugees our as mainly: The political tension between Kenya and Somalia currently over the borders on the Ocean, the issue of terrorist groups which are believe use the camps for their activities including the recruitment of young people and the refugees being so much involved in the local politics of Kenya, and lastly suspicions indicates that the Government of Kenya seems to use refugees as tool in order to seek for financial support from the international community.
Refugees in D.R.Congo who attended our meeting were much interested to know more about the development in this situation and in case anyone may have more information please share with us so that we can tell them more next Sunday. Refugees regretted to observe that they have nowhere to stay which can be referred as “settlements” and they living in instability otherwise D.R.Congo would have received some refugees from Kenya.
Issue surrounding the COVI19 money to refugees was again raised as this seems to be one among issues refugees are wondering about, how comes that some refugees got the money but others did not get. We have been following up this issue with UNHCR and in response UNHCR Goma has done two things: Some refugees received their COVI19 money recently but others have not yet. In response to our email addressed to UNHCR about this issue and some other issues UNHCR called for a meeting with refugee leadership and the meeting is likely to take place on April 16th, 2021. We advised refugees who have not yet received their COVI19 money to report to the National Refugee Commission this week and then share with us the feedback.
The other issue which dominated the meeting was the verification of refugees especially those who missed the 2018 verification exercise, the registration of new arrivals asylum seekers, those who have never done any verification and the issue on putting the children, spouses and children in the system as dependents of refugees. These questions are still one among those questions we would like to discuss with the Government, however we have tried to have a meeting with CNR officers on this issue but we have not yet been successful because we always find the officers in others meetings despite the fact that we have a fixed appointment and they received these points as the agenda of the meeting.
We shall continue trying to secure a meeting with CNR but at the same time, we shall write to UNHCR Goma so that they can also be aware about this problem and see if it may attract their attention for a possible solution. It is not clear why these services are not available to refugees currently and this exposes them to risks of being arrested by the security services and also limits from movements in order to survive.
The meeting was also informed about the situation of those who arrive in Goma from various places in North Kivu where they are registered and which are highly insecure, they come to Goma for generally security reasons but once in Goma they are not put in the database of Goma and as consequences they cannot access services. This also will be forwarded to CNR and UNHCR,
Refugees were informed about the meeting focusing on health care which will bring together the Government, the UNHCR and their implementing partners and requested that refugees’ representatives be included in this meeting, we promised to write to UNHCR about this request. On the health care issue, refugees were informed about the opportunity at Ushirika Hospital to offer treatment to all those who have refugee status, and this is one among the big development, but also refugees were informed about opportunities to access health services at a health center located in Nyiragongo which was built by UNHCR funding and this will benefit mostly to refugees in Nyiragongo. However the health sector is still dominated by so many challenges: There are 4 chains of partners involved: The money comes from UNHCR, to AIDES, then Mutuel de Sante and then the health center. This chain is too long and does not need to exist as it is only resource wasting, each refugee must have a Card and must pay 10% of the total cost of the treatment, and a refugee cannot be treated beyond 25$ USA per person.
We have serious concerns about such arrangements and we wish to understand the rational and why, however our first impression indicate that such arrangement do violate heavily the rights of refugees to access health care services. We also intend to write to UNHCR about such arrangement in order to fully understand why. But also refugees who are sick have so many challenges once in health centers: Have no food, they are extremely poor, cannot afford transport and mostly single people, and some present complicated health situation which are covered by the health package.
Most of the health centers we visited have never seen UNHCR officers, and have challenges with the agreement which do not allow them to offer the needed medical care to refugees, have no ambulances and means of communication through a free toll number.
Refugees were informed in the meeting that it is possible to replace the SimCard and buy a SimCard using the refugee documents. And those who may have challenges in this, should inform us so that we can do the advocacy, however refugees were advised not to change their phone numbers because UNHCR and other partners may want to call them and fail to get them, the best option is to replace the phone number.
Almost 70% of refugees we have interacted with, do not have refugee ID Card especially those who come from Rwanda, yet some among refugees from Burundi have the ID Cards, this according to refugees is the basis of the limitation of their right to free movement because they are always arrested and detained by security services and the Department of General Migration (DGM). The CNR claims that even paper which is the “attestation” can be used as ID and that the problem is on awareness level, however even the paper indicates that it is just an attestation but not the ID Card. We still need to engage with UNHCR and CNR on this issue of refugee Identification Cards, and also engage with DGM and the Police on why they do arrest refugees who are found with the attestation papers. The first attempt will be a visit to the Police and to the DGM.
On this issue also came about those who are still asylum seekers and they were informed that they have the same rights as refugees and can easily move everywhere in D.R.Congo. The meeting resolved to engage with UNHCR and CNR to put in place a Toll free number which refugees can call in case they are arrested because of using the attestation as ID Card. But also those who have challenges can easily come to our offices or call us on +243973704159.
The meeting was informed that many refugees currently have challenges with house rent as many are being chased from their houses. In order to understand what can be done as solutions due to the fact that it may be a challenge for UNHCR to pay rent for all refugees in North Kivu, the participants were divided, some want UNHCR to put in place a Settlement were they can stay but far from the borders, others do not want because of security reasons, and others just want to stay in urban areas and that they should be supported with Income Generating Activities. This question will still be discussed in the next meeting in order to get a consensus about what we shall propose to UNHCR and CNR. However because this question is much connected to the security experience, this needs a leadership move to put in place settlements and encourage refugees through awareness to go there. Surprisingly UNHCR Goma is opposed to the idea of settlements but at the same times it does not provide other alternatives. We are advocating for “Refugee Settlements in North Kivu”.
On the issue of security refugees were briefed about the partnership between Congolese security services and Rwanda security services and there is nothing much they can think is not known. In order to clarify on the issue of security claims, refugees were informed that the Government of Rwanda is concerned by three groups of people: Armed groups against Rwanda, Politicians members of opposition against the current regime in Rwanda and those who participated in the genocide in 1994 in Rwanda. And more was said in order to clarify on the argument that if refugees are registered by UNHCR and CNR they will be targeted by Rwanda. This is one among the areas where we need to communicate to refugees because over the years information to refugees in Eastern Congo was left into the hands of armed groups and political actors and in most cases the information has never been accurate.
The meeting was also informed about divisions surrounding refugees which are: Burundians think they are the true refugees because they get UNHCR assistance and that they should be the ones to take the leadership of refugees, but among them also they are divided into two groups: Those who are believed to be Congolese who lived in Burundi and then when they came back acquired the refugee status and who are perceived as the best placed to benefit from the relief assistance and then the rest who are Burundians and who feel they are left out, then we have Rwandans who are totally abandoned by the services providers but who think they are the majority and that they should always take up the leadership. But also Rwandans are divided into two: The Hutus who believe they are victims and Tutsi who are perceived as working for the regime in Rwanda to spy on Hutus.
We continued helping refugees to foster unity and work together for their common goals.
Among all refugees there are those who are believed to be sued by service providers as spies against their fellow refugees and in most cases when there is need to get the views of refugees those are the ones who are picked and told what to say.
We are so much concerned by what appears on refugee documents which indicates that the refugee status does not guarantee automatic right to access humanitarian relief aid, which is also one among the areas we wish to engage with UNHCR and CNR.
The meeting also indicated the necessity to engage with the refugee leadership on key issues they should bring forward to UNHCR in their interactions. We intend to have a meeting with the refugee representatives in Goma during this week.
In order to engage refugees in various issues and to implement our strategic plan, refugees were asked to form groups and on this Sunday three groups were formed: Women Group, Men Group and Youth Group and each group elected four representatives, suggested their days of meetings and also brainstormed of key activities they want to get involved in as a group.
A debate came in about the perception by the Congolese in the host communities where refugees are viewed as “Rwandans and as rebel groups or assimilated to rebel activities”. However basing on our interactions with some Congolese during our field, people do indicate that they do not know who is a refugee and who is not, and why they are refugees and what a simple Congolese common person do. On this note we promised to put in place activities to create awareness among the host communities about the situation of refugees.
Refugees were informed about the visibility options by using our website in order to highlight refugee issues in Congo, but also the opportunity to use Forced Migrants Review from OXFORD University.
All refugees who have individual cases to listen to were advised to come to the office on Wednesday for one to one interactions and proper management.
The report on the situation of refugees in Nyiragongo was ready and the office intends to make it public by this week, and also the Open Letter to the CNR on the situation of refugees was ready. The meetings indicated the necessity of dialogues and information sessions with various stakeholders in order to provide direct answers.
The meeting ended at 5:30 pm but one point on the agenda was not done and that “who is a refugee? Which will be brought forward in the next meeting.