Key issues during our weekly meeting with refugees in Goma, DRCongo held on July 25th, 2021 at our offices.
This meeting also commemorated the second month since Angelo went missing in Goma, but also other refugees who have been allegedly arrested by security forces and their whereabouts is not yet known. Angelo who is a Refugee Human Rights Defender went missing in May 26th, 2021 in Goma and up to now his family has no information about him. We are also much concerned that efforts are not being done by various organizations in order to engage the government on this issue. While other cases of people in the local communities who were also either missing or kidnapped are fully identified and known where they are, no information is available up to now about Angelo.
Our weekly meetings with refugees in Goma, DRCongo are taking a new orientation and beyond understanding their challenges, it now time to also focus on available opportunities in order to address some of the issues. The meeting is not only to share problems, to get information, but also to solve the problems, to learn about opportunities and to focus on the future together as refugees. And now it is time to help refugees to know each other, work together and interact with others and this will be through activities which bring them together.
Our meeting started with a prayer by a woman volunteer, and this showed us that women are ready to take the lead once given the opportunity. After the prayer the participants suggested to have a reflexion on the word of God, each Sunday during the meeting, which we agreed upon. We shall now make a team of those who are interested to share the word of God with others as this helps to foster unity among refugees and may help them to know each other.
Then refugees shared with us various information on the following:
Security: Some refugees were arrested in Rusayo/ Mugunga, Goma yet they had their refugee identifications and were taken to unknown places by the soldiers. These refugees were accused just of being Rwandans but we do not know what being a “Rwandan” means in DRCongo. We requested those who know their families members to request them to come to our offices and give us clear information for a possible follow up by our legal team which is much available to help. We also managed from this to share information with refugees especially women about the current “state of emergency”, this was because women who attended the meeting were not informed about this situation. But also we updated them about the other military operations and the need to collaborate with the soldiers and respect all measures put in place, especially avoid walking at night.
Identification: Refugees also showed concerns about many among those who are not yet registered and who risk to be targeted by security services on ground that they are rebels and yet they are not. We do not know what is UNHCR and CNR planning in order to ensure that refugees are identified and registered. The CNR claims they are willing to register all refugees but they do not have money and also the security issues, some refugees do indicate that they are being threaten by FDLR fighters who do not want refugees to be registered, and some FDLR fighters have indicated to us that they are totally opened to all ideas about refugee protection measures, as long as these refugees are not exploited by humanitarian organizations and these refugees are not attacked by various armed groups including the Congolese Army, the UN Mission, Rwandan Army and militia groups from the local population.
We have already addressed an email to UNHCR and the Congolese National Commission for Refugees (CNR) to inform us about any plans on ground to ensure that refugees get registered and are identified.
Social issues: The meeting was informed that a refugee child has died and that AIDES which is the UNHCR Partner for refugees in the urban would support the burial. Refugees indicated about how they are discriminated by the people in the host communities, where they are forced to hide and sometimes change their identities, they are called Rwandans and the men are called Interahamwe which is part of Rwandan fighters in DRCongo. We have therefore started empowering refuges about their identities and advised them to share their refugee identities with local leaders in their communities. This was in response to the challenges faced by various leaders who claim they do not know who is a refugee, a migrant and an illegal migrant in Goma.
We also received a case of a refugee woman who was chased from the house and she is now sleeping on the streets with her four kids, the problem is that she is not yet registered and she stays in Nyiragongo which is not yet covered by UNHCR. Up to now UNHCR is still silent on responses towards refugees who are not in the urban, especially that they have legitimate needs which require urgent humanitarian responses. We mobilized money among the participants and only 3$ were contributed among fellow refugees. We intend to add on and see if she can rent a house for at least 3 months.
While COVID19 is a serious problem for the entire population in Goma, DRCongo, refugees who attended our meeting seem to have little information and sometimes wrong information about COVID19 while others denied its existence. Yesterday in our meeting we focused of sharing information about COVID19, and clarify about the myths that surround COVID19 in DRCongo. Women who attended our meeting remain largely ignorant about this epidemic. Both general information about prevention and possible cure were discussed, but refugees argued about the extreme misery they are facing and living in currently.
Refugee initiatives in Goma
We also had a long debate on the visibility of refugees in Goma through putting on ground initiatives that can also benefit to the local population and suggested many other ways we can all get involved in portraying a positive image of who refugees are, making a difference between refugees and armed groups, and from those who come to grab land. More will be discussed in the nest meeting especially putting ideas together on how we can promote a positive image about refugees in Goma, DRCongo. Fear of being attacked or discriminated is still the big problem for so many refugees but also themselves are still having the identity crisis and with time this will be addressed.
The meeting ended with the split of refugees in their three groups (Men, Women and Young People) and were informed about the ongoing activities at the offices such as: English Classes for Refugees, The Tailoring Programme, Craft Activities for women, Counselling and Guidance, and the SGBV programme among others.
Challenges for these meetings
These meetings are currently affected because of the restrictions related to COVID19, but more precisely the limited space at the offices, chairs and measures to combat against COVID19 among others. We are also faced with the challenge of clean water to drink and the failure to respond to those who come hungry and wish to get food from us.
These meetings have helped refugees to come together and focus on what is common among themselves, do help refugees to associate with others, come and seek support from others and have a sense of belonging,
But also have helped host people in the community to know more about refugees and change their minds about what they knew especially the negative attitude towards refugees,