Our responses to various reactions and accusations against us about our activities on refugee rights in Eastern D.R.Congo.
The main reactions, accusations and negative attitudes have come from the following actors and in most cases it is through third-parties which make our work more difficult. We are fully aware how sensitive, passionate and with great interests surrounding refugee issues in D.R.Congo. We did not come to attack nor threatens all what is attached to refugees but instead we are here to improve and to propose another better way to all engage on refugee issues and at the same time protect refugees.
Refugee welfare council (refugee committee)
The CNR, Congolese National Commission for Refugees,
The UNHCR, United Nations High Commission for Refugees,
People who claim from Rwandan Security Services,
The General Public through Social Media,
Feedback from emails,
In order to be more transparent, and to put in place an open policy we came up with the following:
Our office is opened everyday: From Monday to Friday (8am-5pm) and from Saturday and Sunday (11am -4pm), we hope this will help everyone to come to us and get the useful information
Weekly meetings with refugees: Where we meet every Sunday and the meeting is opened to anyone who wants, the meeting always start from 2-4 pm at our offices.
We also put in place email: (refugeeleadersforum) where at least every two hours you can get response to your inquiry, we put in place a website ( www.globalrefugeeleaders.org) with other social media such as Facebook and Twitter and lastly a whatsup number +256758197767, where at least within two hours you may get feedback to any message you may send.
The following situations of refugees in eastern DRCongo, motivated our determination to focus the attention on their problems:
Many refugees from Rwanda, and Burundi left eastern D.R.Congo since 2010 towards Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia among others where they are wrongly registered as “Congolese Refugees” and often this has created tensions among them and Congolese refugees. We have spent most of our time solving issues related to identities of refugees,
Refugees have over the years been recruited into rebel activities especially in Uganda and Rwanda in order to go and fight in eastern D.R.Congo this has forced thousands of people to flee and we are all the time dealing with them, and when we observed their identities we realized that a big number are those registered as Congolese yet they are not,
Refugees from Rwanda and Burundi are in dire situation in eastern D.R.Congo and they called upon us to advocate for them,
About our approach
First of all, we do recognize that our approach “refugees at the center” is unique and the only one which has existed in eastern D.R.Congo since 1994 when the country hosted thousands of refugees from Rwanda and Burundi. We understand that it is normal to be perceived differently and it is our work to help our audience to know better what we are doing and what we intend to do. Because of this we have already developed a Communication Strategy which will be implemented once the funds are available.
What we are now
The Global Refugee Leaders Forum is a diversity of people and seeks a holistic approach to refugee problems which include: Human Rights, Development, and Humanitarian Response and emergency where necessary, so it is not true that we only focus on human rights in terms of activism. However advocacy is key in all our interventions.
Views from refugees against us
1. You came here to make money and very soon they will bribe you and you will abandon refugees: R/ We did not come to make money, and we are not disposed to be bribed. We came here because there is a problem and we believe that our ideas, our skills, and our efforts our money and our engagement can bring a solution. We are here for a cause and refugees can count on us, but we must do everything together with refugees.
2. You are working on refugees issues in order to get a contract from UNHCR and takeover from AIDES: R/ As organization we are independent from UNHCR, we do not come for a competition and we are not implementing partner of UNHCR, yes we can partner in some programs and in some activities of common interests but not as the whole organization, our partnership in case it happens to be there should limit on projects. We want things to change to better and we believe the same people can do this and can work for the best interests of refugees. So we are not in competition with AIDES.
3. Since you came, the refugee Committee is now negatively perceived by UNHCR, and this may be because of you: R/ Let me inform you that it was UNHCR which gave us the contacts of the refugee leadership and encouraged us to involve them, but also there is nothing which UNHCR did for you before which is not doing for you now as some among of you may think. And on top of that we do not decide on behalf of UNHCR strategies,
4. Are you working on behalf of Rwandan government in order to take us by force to Rwanda: R/ We have worked on various refugee issues in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia and in most cases we have stood firmly for the protection of Rwanda refugees in those countries, sometimes some amongst us are even targeted by Rwandan Security Services, some amongst us cannot freely move in Rwanda. So we want Rwandan refugees to be fully protected in Eastern D.R.Congo.
5. Now what are we going to get from you, because we have these refugee papers but get nothing, why are these papers important: R/Our first approach is advocacy in terms of changing the mindset, we understand your basic needs and we shall not distance from these needs but we shall journey with you to find solutions together.
1. Some amongst us are now negatively perceived by some offices especially AIDES and CNR because of working with you, don’t you see that you have done more harm to us: / We have to be clear to each one, and our work needs a clear position, you either agree to propose change and willingly accept to pay the price for that change or you continue the same way you have lived over the years. Our work on refugee issues yes will touch on the interests of some people, and some may be tempted to react in different ways, like some you have said that they no longer welcome at AIDES, that is the price. However in the future when they will look strategically they will discover opportunities in what we are doing, right now it may be difficult.
2. Some amongst us are blacklisted and are considered as mad people, and to make the matter worse AIDES claims we are the ones who brought Global Refugee Leaders Forum here: R / We do not decide on behalf of other organizations and they are free to make their choices according to their mandate, we came here in D.R.Congo for a cause and decided this independently because some amongst us are Congolese who have obligations towards this nation.
1. Be careful because you may mislead refugees and that will cost you a lot, and you risk being arrested: / Our major guide is the law and the human rights instruments that D.R.Congo subscribe to, yes we are proposing a different approach which will be based on the observance of refugee rights, this is exactly different from the current culture of the violation of refugee rights which is put in place. We do not know if that is misleading, if telling refugees about their rights may lead to our arrest,
2. Be careful with what refugees tell you and actually do not follow it, they will lead into trouble, we are the only one who know everything: / We understand that for various reasons refugees can give information which is not accurate but it does not mean that information provided by refugees is false, our approach is to listen to them and then decide what to consider, some information may need an investigations, some information may need a serious research and some information may need our direct checking,
3. You should either make a formal partnership with us or inform us about your work: / As per now we have not yet planned for a partnership but we are opened for any form of discussions, we are glad that we informed you and you responded positively to our demand to operate on issues affecting refugees,
4. Considering yourselves as saviors of refugees and now you seem to show the whole world that we are doing nothing: / We do not intend to save refugees, we are only proposing you another innovative way which is more effective in order to respond to the needs of refugees, we are not taking refugees away from you but helping to have a voice when they are with you, we have not yet promised anything to refugees however we have only informed them that they have rights,
5. You are spoiling now our reputation with your writings to various people everywhere, and that puts our career at risks: /R Yes as we informed you, a lot of work on refugee issues here in eastern D.R.Congo has to be done together with various actors at all levels, we have decided not only to inform them but also call upon them to come and help. But there is nothing much to fear about if you know what you are doing is the best for refugees,
6. Do you think when you write and then we also give our side of the situation, they will consider you: /R We do not intend to own the monopoly of the situation, actually we want that we all give to our audience the diversity of the information so that people may have a balanced information which can help them to decide. We are so happy that currently some decision makers may now have another view from what has been on ground over the years,
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees offices in Goma D.R.Congo has been so far much helpful to us and seems available to help our activities in various ways. However they are issues which may need to be addressed.
1. UNHCR Goma has a negative attitude towards the notion of “Human Rights” which are viewed as mere words and wants concrete activities that can help refugees to catch up with life: R/ We have hinted at this, we may not achieve much if we do not challenge the existing mindset, so human rights are core of our existence but we are also in other things which UNHCR wants. It curious to observe that the United Nations agents may have reservations towards human rights, but also human rights are not mere words, they are a reality of life and refugees need to be empowered in order to defend themselves,
2. The visibility of refugees in eastern D.R.Congo seems to be a problem to UNHCR and other actors: R/ UNHCR seems not comfortable that were now alerting the world through our work about the situation of refugees, according to UNHCR the visibility of refugees will expose them to stigma, our view is different as we believe that the visibility of refugees will end stigma against refugees. We have now all of us agree that refugees exist and that they have problems and own the challenges to solve these problems,
3. Joining the same approach used by UNHCR in order to respond to refugees needs: R/ We have observed various strategies used and we believe they do not benefit much to refugees and that is why we have come in order to propose something new, and instead of fighting against what we are bringing forward, let us give it a chance to exist and then we shall evaluate it late together. They are issues already in place which we highly appreciate and we have communicated this to UNHCR Goma, and encouraged them to improve,
4. On the issue of exposing refugees which UNHCR Goma is much concerned about: R/ Yes even if this is a problem let us try it first and then we shall see after evaluation, we strongly believe that refugees will be protected once they are known in their communities and once we create awareness among host communities on how best they can provide protection to refugees,
5. Exposing refugees to community attacks and other forms of discrimination and stigmatization: R/ We have not yet seen deliberate community attacks on refugees but what we are hearing from the communities is that they do not know who a refugee is and who is a foreigner, and the community is suspecting everyone either coming to loot minerals, grab land or serve as spies, that is what we should challenge through clear information to people,
FDLR (Rwandan Armed Group in Eastern D.R.Congo)
It is important for us to clarify that we are not yet in direct contact with the leadership of FDLR but during the exercise of our activities we do sometimes interact with people who claim working with FDLR and sometimes claim they were sent by FDLR, we do not know how much this is true. But when we search on Google we found that the FDLR Group is fighting for the protection of Rwandan Refugees in D.R.Congo, we are not yet sure if they only claim the monopoly, or they also believe that other actors can also extend protection to these refugees.
1. Opposing the registration process of refugees and the desire for refugees to have access to humanitarian services: R/ First of all let us point out clearly that the term “refugee” is a legal term and for anyone to use it must fully be aware that really the person is a refugee and that passes through a clear registration, so if a person is not registered and granted the status he or she cannot be referred to as “refugee”. So if we are all talking about refugees then we must work hard that they are all registered and have access to humanitarian relief aid. We are not yet sure why a section of FDLR is opposed to this if people are already refugees, we need to be informed more.
2. Not allowing refugees to be in contact with UNHCR and other humanitarian relief aid workers: R/ We have observed that many humanitarian organizations are political and some among their staff workers are a problem to the protection of refugees, that is what we need to fights against and we also need everyone to fight against this, we need humanitarian organizations which can fully protect refugees, but not brainwash refugees, not denying services to all these children, women, young people and vulnerable who need to be helped.
3. On the issue of creating difficult conditions which will force refugees to be easily recruited into armed forces: R/ First of all we are all like many others calling for peace and stability in eastern D.R.Congo to permit people to talk about development so our effort is geared towards discouraging refugees to be recruited into armed groups, secondly we do not believe that the FDLR may do much if it continue to recruit these refugees children who have never been at school, to rely on these poor women in order to get food, then lastly what is more important is to define the goals for the war and ensure that people do join it freely out of their good will,
Like also it is the practice here, we have not yet received someone who is an official from Rwanda but we have been in contact with people who claim they work with the Rwandan security services and that they were sent to interact with us. We do not know also how true this is.
1. Discouraging the presence and the visibility of refugees in eastern D.R.Congo: R/ This strategy has been in place since 1996 and did not bring results up to now, the fact is that refugees are there and we need to think about something else. We believe that if Rwanda could be close and friendly to refugees is more effective and could encourage many to go back,
2. Not allowing refugees to come together and therefore put in place the strategy to scatter them all so that they do not become political actors: R/ This is just an issue of how they should be managed inside D.R.Congo and this we believe Rwanda can engage with the current Congolese authorities in order to ensure that refugees are not political, otherwise the strategy of dispersing them has not brought solutions and it is not effective.
3. Forced repatriation back to Rwanda rather than remaining in D.R.Congo: R/ The reality is that forced repatriation is more harmful and does not help much in order to promote this durable solution, on contrary it is an attack to this solution of voluntary repatriation. Let us create a friendly environment which will promote voluntary repatriation and see how it will work, we believe this is the best solution and will pull so many refugees to go back,
Social Media (Whatsupp and Facebook)
Most of the reactions from our audience on social media do think that maybe we are also from Rwanda but pretend to be Congolese: R/ Our team in D.R.Congo is entirely composed of Congolese Nationals who have been actors in various structures of the Civil Society in D.R.Congo, so they are well known, however they are being helped by other refugees who are also well known as refugees.
Some people think we want to protect Rwandan who participated in the Genocide: R/ No, the refugee status is not a shelter for criminals, all those who committed crimes should face justice but it should be done in a certain manner which abides with human rights standards and the law. So refugees who are criminals should be clearly known and be separated from those who are not criminals,
Refugees have done more harm to Congolese and should be taken back to their country Rwanda even by force: R/ Yes, I do agree that so many Congolese family lost their dear ones who were killed by may yes or may not by refugees, I know some families who have lost family members due to activities of refugees. It should not have been in that way if we put in place a clear system on how to manage the influx of refugees, and that is what is still missing up to. However let us also point out that so many refugees lost their family members killed by Congolese people, so many refugees lost their properties looted or taken by force by Congolese people, and unfortunately we have not yet deployed efforts to look into the contribution of refugees in this country, that is why a reconciliation is much needed.
Reactions from emails
On proposal writing and submitting projects: R/ as per now we are not ready to get involved in proposal writing and not yet ready to received funding from proposal writing. We are encouraging all those who would wish to support us to it in terms of donations or grants and that is why we are much in online fundraising.
Jackson Bagum Nt
Head office:Av. Kituku One (a 200 m de la Nouvelle Cathedrale , Route CCLK, Quartier Kyeshero, Goma/ Nord-Kivu, DRCongo.I Tel: +243973704159, Whatsup: +256758197767. refugeeleadersforum