Monthly report: April 2021 on the situation of refugees in the eastern of the Democratic Republic of Congo by Global Refugee Leaders Forum/ Humanite Plus
Kituku, Kyeshero/ Goma – R.D.Congo
Tel: +243973704159/ Whatsup: +256758197767
“Refugees are not the problem but they have problems”
This was during our visit in Mugunga, this is the house where she lives. She is one among the refugee women victims of rape living on drugs and she is not even granted humanitarian assistance.
We remain the only organization holding the convictions that refugees in Eastern D.R.Congo should enjoy full protection and that this country should offer better opportunities to refugees. On ground almost not much is done for the well-being of refugees, UNHCR remains vague on her approach towards the protection of refugees, the Congolese Government also is not clear on how to handle matters related to refugees, the other humanitarian actors are busy with Internally Displaced people where it seems easy to fundraise.
Efforts in place seems to indicate a conspiracy to expose refugees to various problems as a strategy to force them to repatriate to their countries of origin and those who would not should forge their way for mingling with the host communities in what is called “self – integration”. All these approaches well maintained in place violate refugee rights and reduce opportunities for refugees to expand their protection space.
One among our community volunteer during the field visit in Mugunga, our approach is also to empower refugees themselves in order to support their fellow refugees. This field work helps him to understand better the situation of his fellow refugees.
Invisible refugees in D.R.Congo
Refugees in eastern D.R.Congo remain the most invisible, unknown and in large numbers not identified yet they do exist and are in urgent need of services. Little information is available about refugees yet we have them, we have the Congolese National Commission for Refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in place and so many other humanitarian organizations operating in the country. Refugees themselves are always wondering why they remain unknown, yet all actors above mentioned have no clear arguments why refugees remain abandoned. In a situation where the effectiveness of these actors remain in balance efforts should be put in place to hold them accountable.
We have observed that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has continued using figures which do not depict the reality, alleging that refugees in D.R.Congo are around 550,000 is to clearly deny the existence of the thousands who also are there. In Masisi alone in North Kivu, we believe that there are more than 300,000 refugees.
The biggest violation of refugee rights in Eastern D.R.Congo is the political move to deny their existence and to refuse to identify them, UNHCR and the CNR are fully responsible for this violation. We estimate that Eastern D.R.Congo alone may be hosting more than 800,000 refugees among them only less than 10% is registered.
During our visit to a refugee family in Mugunga, unfortunately most of these children are not going to school because they do not have school fees.
We are going to draft a complaint letter to the UNHCR as a way of alerting the organization on the danger to circulate information which is not accurate. This should be done during the month of May 2021.
Various events for this month of April
This report is a unique of its kind during this month of April 2021 which started with a lot of events among them included:
Refugees in Nyiragongo/ North Kivu
We published our first report of the research we conducted in Nyiragongo which aimed at providing information to UNHCR in order to make informed decision about refugees in that area which are left out from any kind of support. Before UNHCR believed that these refugees are economically stable and that they are much integrated within the local communities, which was not accurate. While UNHCR did not want to respond to this report formally, during a meeting with refugee leaders, UNHCR Goma mentioned about these refugees during a meeting with refugee representatives but the UN Agency is not specific and not clear up to now on what it intends to do in order to create more protection opportunities to all refugees in eastern D.R.Congo.
Denying humanitarian relief aid to this person should be criminalized, and considered as inhuman and degrading treatment. This is one among refugees we visited recently.
Refugee victims of violence in Nyiragongo
We also witnessed violence in Buene/ Nyiragongo which turned into ethnic violence in which some refugees were victims and up to now the number of those who were affected is not yet known because nothing as urgent intervention targeted these refugees who should have been protected. As organization we visited Two refugees who were victims and shared their worst experience with us during the ethnic violence in Buene, and also showed us how they were particularly vulnerable than any other person in the host communities.
A research is much needed to find out how refugees were particularly affected by this ethnic violence and provide stakeholders with recommendations for possible actions and this should also serve as opportunity to learn a lesson on how to plan interventions in the future. We remain much open to any partnership in order to carry out such a research.
Meeting between UNHCR and Refugee Leaders in Goma
It was also during this month that finally the UNHCR Goma held her first meeting with a team of refugee representatives and discussed on various refugee issues. Unfortunately the meeting which could have been an opportunity to share ideas, to learn, relearn and unlearn, turned to be a mere information session conducted by UNHCR aiming at explaining to refugees why they should not be assisted, rather than focusing on how can we all work together in order to improve the situation of refugees.
As organization we continue sharing our ideas with various refugee leaders, and encourage UNHCR to embark of meaningful engagement aiming at addressing the challenges faced by refugees in order to increase chances for their protection.
The new Government in D.R.Congo
This month also was marked by the formation of the new government in D.R.Congo which we hope will deploy more efforts to focus on the situation of refugees in eastern part, where we strongly believe that the solution to refugee problems is one among the solutions in order to bring peace in Congo. We do expect from the government to put in place services such as settlements, provide security and ensure that all refugees are fully identified among others.
It is now time to engage the Congolese Government through the Minister of Internal Affairs to put in place a clear plan in order to ensure effective responses towards refugees. For this we need actors to focus on advocacy at national level.
Philippo Grandi visit in the Eastern D.R.Congo
One among refugee leaders in Goma posing for a photo with Grandi during his visit in Goma. Refugees were disappointed that UNHCR Boss did not attention on issues affecting them and he came when his mind was already fixed on what to tell them. In most cases which is the same political message circulating the agenda our countries of origin.
But also this month was marked by the visit of the UNHCR Boss who came to Goma and had interactions with refugees and again instead of providing refugees with clear plan of how UNHCR intends to create for them opportunities for protection, the UNHCR boss was also vague on his activity and his agenda about refugees in eastern D.R.Congo. That is not what we expect from the UNHCR which is accountable for the protection of all refugees in the world. More advocacy efforts are needed to engage the UNHCR to shift from her current move and embrace the protection of all refugees.
We need to bring other partners on board and together we engage UNHCR to make a priority the protection of refugees in the Eastern D.R.Congo, but also to continue with our advocacy efforts. A letter will be addressed to UN Special Rapporteur of Forced Migrants about such UNHCR Policy, and invite the office to visit the eastern D.R.Congo,
We continued with our weekly briefing on refugee issues and various topics were discussed among them information of existing services such as health care, refugee documents, and access to education.
Refugees listening to the speech is was prepared by others and which was presented by their representatives to the UNHCR Boss during his visit in Goma. This was last Sunday during the briefing meeting at our office.
On access to health care, we continue calling upon UNHCR Goma to change the current existing policies and for that we intend to have a meeting with various stakeholders involved. On the refugee documents, we are pleased by the CNR has decided to open up registration to all refugees who do not have documents, there are so many challenges attached to this but we shall start from there. We are looking for an organization partner which can help us to advocate at the Ministerial level in Kinshasa on behalf of asylum seekers who have been waiting for their status for so many years, for some it has taken now 10 years. We also intend to engage UNHCR on this issue in order to facilitate the process and to ensure that asylum seekers do not wait for long.
Access to Sim Cards
Refugee documents are still not yet accepted by Communication Companies, we have already embarked on this with field visits to Airtel, Orange and VodaCom, they promised to table this question with the government and we are still waiting.
This is also this same with the Police, the Migration and other security services who do not consider refugee identification, we think that a Conference would have the best to address all these issues.
We shall continue making a follow up on this issue until it is solved, we also intend to write to the Police and the Congolese Migration, but also we shall remind the CNR to issue refugees with “Refugee Cards” which are much need to facilitate their movement within the country,
Humanitarian Relief Aid
This includes (food, shelter, education, and health care) to each recognized refugee and asylum seeker in the country, we have observed the great need, visited and conducted a research in Nyiragongo, and we are daily confronted with refugees who are hungry and have nowhere to stay. Our first intervention would have been to fundraise for food to refugees, we are now looking for partners that can support our ideas to provide food to refugees. Very soon we shall address a letter to the government on this problem in order to find out possibilities to fundraise for refugee food.
This is the only food she managed to get on that day and her situation is currently worrying in case she does not get help she may die, she is sick and she cannot move anymore.
We shall continue advocating to UNHCR to ensure that refugees in eastern D.R.Congo have access to humanitarian relief aid, but also encourage all other partners who can help us to do so, more research work is needed in this field in order to provide decision makers with clear information,
But also we shall engage with UNHCR in order to find out which plans are on ground to ensure that refugees have access to humanitarian relief aid.
Preparations for the UNHCR Boss in Goma
Two Sundays were put aside for refugees to get involved in the issues concerning the visit of UNHCR Commissioner, among them 102 contributed and participated in two meetings aiming at contributing ideas, and this was the first time in Goma, 14 refugees drafted the Open Letter to the UNHCR Boss, and one refugee finished the last editing of the letter, which was signed by 50 refugees and 10 refugees attended the meeting with the UNHCR boss.
We also wish to have more partners in this who can facilitate all efforts to ensure that a big number of refugees and local communities are involved and participate fully in their affaires. More of activities such as engaging the Press, holding discussions and Conference or public lecture in light of the UNHCR boss could not be done because of the lack of partners to fund such activities.
As we said, we regret to observe that the UNHCR Boss did not focus on issue affecting refugees in Eastern DRCongo and this may be because we were not able to have strong campaigns before and during his visit, due to lack of funding,
There is a need of having partners who can fund advocacy and other activities during such important visit in order to highlight key issues. We do call upon all actors who may be interested in this to contact for more discussions.
Communication with refugees
There are still only two activities put in place in order to communicate with refugees, the first is the word of mouth from person to person, and the second is through our Sunday Information session. Good enough we have developed a Communication Strategy and we are now calling upon those who may be interested to partner with us to come and we can discuss. The communication strategy focuses on the activities aiming at direct contact with refugees because this remain the effective way to communicate with them, because the majority do not have phones. During our Sunday meetings more that 35% of those who attend do not have a phone, and those who have it, the best way to engage them is through SMS, and only few have access to Smart Phones and can use Whatsup.
In case of partner we also intend to put in place a Bulk SMS Activity as we continue receiving their phone numbers during our meetings. Generally between 50 to70 refugees do attend our Sunday meetings each day.
We plan to start up the ideas of the cluster focusing majorly on refugee issues in Goma. The guiding document has already been drafted, we now started to consult some few organizations which are already identified in order to come up with the host and other key members to drive this project. The two first organizations already consulted were “the International Red Cross Committee” in Goma that recommended to write to them officially and the Norwegian Refugee Council which indicated that they do not have any plan about refugees in D.R.Congo and that there is nothing they can do.
We still need to contact two more mainly the Danish Refugee Council and the UNICEF among others, a letter will be drafted and taken to the Red Cross. In case you know about any organization based here in Eastern Congo which can be interested in this idea of refugee cluster, please let us know,
Issues handled at the office during this months
Most of refugees who reported to our offices told us issues about house rent, conflict with their neighbors who are Congolese, accessing refugee documents, adding their children to their files, lack of food, and medical care. These are part of humanitarian relief aid which we are advocating for and would like to have various actors joining this struggle.
We also intend to have a project which can give food to refugees and asylum seekers who are in dire situations and this will start once we manage to get the funding,
Despite the fact that refugees are coming to our offices looking for services which we may not be in position to offer at the moment such as counseling, medical treatment, informal education and school fees for their children and income generating activities among others.
We have deployed efforts to contact various organizations but we have not yet managed to get a partner who is also working on refugee issues here in Goma, even international organizations which have mandate to support refugees and who are represented in Congo are not involved in refugees affairs. UNHCR Goma remains the only existing option but at the same time the United Nations Refugee Agency is not clear on services provided to refugees and remains vague on her protection strategy towards refugees.
We continue hoping that UNHCR Goma will be our starting point and will put in place clear policies and programs that promote the wellbeing of all refugees in North Kivu, including engaging other actors to come on board in the strategy of responsibility sharing.
We also call upon other actors to come on board and support the protection of refugees, in case you may know organization which is giving services to refugees in Goma, please share the information with us, and let us work together to end discrimination against refugees in D.R.Congo.
Our refugee women group meets every Friday from 1pm at the office and recently they decided to set up contribution from members in order to generate money which will help to put in place some projects for their members. The women group is also planning to visit other refugee women who have been victims of rape, they have already contributed some money which they will use to buy food items for the victims.
The Refugee Youth Group is also moving on well and they have agreed to meet every Saturday from 2pm at the office in order to discuss issues affecting them. More about this group will be communicated in our next edition of May 2021.
Refugee Men Group is also in the process of being put in place and this will help men to be more organized and participate in refugee affaires.
This month we published number of articles and two open letters which can be found in our website (www.globalrefugeeleaders.org)
We also addressed four letters to various organizations, two letters to UNHCR on the issues of refugees and one Open Letter to the Congolese National Commission for Refugees (CNR). These documents were also circulated in our mailing list which has now more than 350 emails, and on our various social media.
We addressed two letters to UNHCR regarding the situation in which a refugee lost her life without being helped and for two women who are sick and need urgent assistance. We are yet to find out what happens about these cases.
Interaction with the Media
This month we received two journalists and managed to have interviews with them on various refugee issues. This comes in yet we have not yet developed a Media strategy because of the lack of funding for this activity to be successful.
However these journalists had challenges to get reactions from UNHCR and the government of Congo because these institutions were not willing to engage with the media.
We also managed to have a meeting with the Deputy Speaker of the Provincial Parliament in North Kivu and discussed issues affecting refugees.
We were also invited to participate in various online meetings and Conferences on refugee issues but we could not do it because we are do not have access to reliable internet yet.
Looking for partners
As we move forward in the desire to expand the existing protection space for refugees in eastern D.R.Congo and to ensure that refugees are effectively protected we are looking for the following partners:
A partner that can help us to cover the current administrative costs such paying for the office, and buying the office furniture, motivation for the staff members and volunteers among others,
A partner that support our legal aid Department in order to be more effective,
A partner that can support our Communication Department and help us to reach more refugees and other stakeholders,
The first refugee association in Goma
We have been also pleased by the new refugee association which has been officially recognized by the Government of Congo and which brings together different refugees. The association Actions des Refugies pour le Developemen et le bein-etre Social will offer more opportunities for refugees and give us more opportunities to expand the protection space to refugees in eastern D.R.Congo.
Urgent programs which are needed
Among the urgent programs we need to put in place for refugees here in North Kivu include:
Capacity building for refugee leaders in the field of human rights, peace and conflict resolution, leadership and good governance among others,
To put in place a programme for Functional Adult Education which will include reading, counting and writing, English and French lessons,
To put in place the Computer Training Programme which will focus of young people to acquire more skills in Computer, and other trainings on how to use social media,
Volunteer and Internship
We are looking for volunteers and interns who can support our work towards the protection of refugees in DRCongo. Find more in our website (refugeeleadersforum )
Jackson Baguma Nt