Certain refugees and asylum seekers arbitrary arrested and detained in North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo’
“Basing on these cases available, the mere fact of holding a refugee status or a refugee document is enough in order to be considered as the first suspect of enemy to peace and danger to security”
When the government of D.R.Congo declared the “state of emergency” in both North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, we expressed concerns about the safety of refugees and asylum seekers in eastern D.R.Congo, because of various reasons among them:
Many refugees are not yet identified up to now and do not have refugee documents, many refugees are negatively perceived by the local population and security services as “enemies” of the state, and who should be forcefully repatriated, while others have documents which are not recognized by various service providers, the local population and authorities at all levels do easily assimilate refugees to either “foreigners” or to “rebels of FDLR”, and lastly UNHCR in Goma hides information about the presence of refugees in what it calls “ not to expose refugees” which is does not match with the reality on ground and makes hard to claim the protection of persons who are not known clearly.
Of the current we continue being alerted about the arrests of refugees and asylum seekers in various places which started in May 26th, 2021 with the disappearance of Angelo, mainly in Masisi and Goma North Kivu. Two more other refugees are alleged to have been arrested in Masisi and taken to unknown places by security services for the last two week according to their friends who visited our offices.
The mode of operation seems to be the same, they come to you and pick you and move away without saying anything. The first was alleged to have been picked when he was attending a Baptism Mass in a Catholic Church and the second is alleged to have been picked from his home at night in Masisi North Kivu.
And this was added to the number of 4 more arrested on Thursday July 8th, 2021 by security services and taken to SOKOLA2 military camp in Goma, where they were detained. With the intervention from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Goma, these refugees were released on Saturday July 10th, 2021. Good enough these 4 had their refugee identifications which made the work easier, however it is still a problem to follow up the cases of those who do not have refugee identification.
We are extremely concerned by the manner in which these arrests are being carried out and the reasons why these refugees are targeted, on allegations that they may be in connections with armed groups. “Being a Rwandan refugee in North Kivu DRCongo does not necessary make the person close, known or relative to Rwandan armed groups operating in place”. We think that more intelligence work in much need in order to avoid arbitrary arrests but also friends and relatives of the person should be informed but also refugee leadership should be involved, the state should not operate like a militia group. “We are not opposed to the arrests of refugees who may be considered as suspects, we are only concerned by the manner in which arrests are being conducted, and the lack of information to friends and relatives of the persons being arrested”.
The system put in place in order to intervene seems not effective and that is mainly, in case of a problem refugee leadership does contact UNHCR Goma and then the case is sent to either the CNR or to the UN Mission in Congo. These two referral mechanisms are not yet effective in the cases of arrests and disappearance that have brought to their attention. “But we also concerned that UNHCR Goma is not much involved in pro-active and preventive approach which could spear refugees from many problems at the community level”.
In order to help refugees to live in peace and reduce the current state of concern, worry and fear among refugees the following should be considered:
1. Strengthen the existing legal support to refugees in order to offer services to all those in need and strongly engage refugees in the peace and security process,
2. Carry visits in various detention centers in North Kivu in order to identify and advocate for refugees who may be detained illegally but also investigate other illegal detention centers which are alleged to exist in place,
3. Engage in strong advocacy with the Military Authorities and put in place Community awareness programs about refugees and the necessity to ensure their protection,
4. Put in place awareness activities targeting the local population in various areas that host refugees about refugees and how the community to ensure their protection,
5. Support refugees to have access to registration services, and fully make the participation of refugees in issues of peace, security and their protection,