The Reasons why Rwandans are running away from Rwanda in order to seek asylum in DRCongo: What refugees say

The situation in Rwanda that forces people to run away in order to seek asylum in other countries especially D.R.Congo and Uganda. Some among the reasons advanced by Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers.


Why these are people running away from their country Rwanda and come to Goma, these are not refugees but economic migrants, and they are the causes of the insecurity here? Rwanda is a very good and peaceful country, why should they come here? ”. That was the views from a highly military officer we met in Goma recently on the issue of ensuring the protection of refugees during these military operations. In our discussions we therefore agreed to share information with various authorities about the other side of the situation in Rwanda which is not often covered by Cameras. Are there real causes that are in conformity with the criteria to grant the refugee status?

The Article 14 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 1948 states “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.  However the question remains, are Rwandans in DRCongo being persecuted in their country, or they are just economic migrants?

Do Rwandan asylum seekers meet the five criteria in order to claim the refugee status “persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinions and member of particular social group”?

Despite songs of praises everywhere how beautiful, developed, peaceful and politically stable is Rwanda, and the praises towards the current Rwandan political leadership since 1994, still thousands of Rwandans continue to seek asylum in other countries every year.

We have developed small document in order to give information to various stakeholders in DRCongo especially the local leaders in North Kivu, who seem to have little information on how the situation looks like in Rwanda beyond these songs imposed on everyone to sing them, but at the same moment share information with various stakeholders at all levels the views of refugees and asylum seekers from Rwanda.

This comes at this particular time when the current military authorities in North Kivu are targeting Rwandans among others foreigners whom are being accused of illegal stay in the country and causing insecurity, such affirmation from the security services have left us wondering on the grounds that led to such conclusions.

A local leader in Goma said to us recently “we arrested one Rwandan together with his family and handed them over to the Migration and they were taken back to Rwanda. They rented a house in my area and when we asked them, they could not speak Kiswahili and did not give us clear explanation why they came here, so we suspected them as enemies. I did not have an idea that they may be asylum seekers”.

During our meeting with officers from Migration in Goma they said “Actually tell us, where refugees stay? How can we differentiate them from other people? Why do they come here? Look here we have a list of over 3,000 foreigners in some parts of Goma, according to our local authorities but we do not know who refugees are and who are illegal migrants, so what can we do in such a situation?”

Also this few lines are being made in order to understand why UNHCR continue to prioritize the repatriation of Rwandan refugees yet so many have expressed fear of persecutions once in Rwanda, this process also is highly controversial and has been marked but so many allegations which remain to be verified. The voluntary character of that repatriation process is worrying and this has affected the protection desire which should be aimed at, in order to benefit refugees and asylum seekers.

This reports seeks to promote the protection of Rwandan refugees especially in eastern DRCongo, where many even fear to report to the local authorities about their intentions to seek for the refugee status.

This report will not explore what happens to refugees once they are taken to Rwanda, and what happens to refugees once they are on DRCongo soil but rather will seek to understand what makes Rwandans to run away from their country. We are not even going to explore the whole running process until the time of crossing the borders, we are only limited to what triggers the decision to move away.

Our hope is that once we all understand the other side of the story as lived by Rwandans, we may also understand the need for them to be granted a refugee status and to be supported during the whole process. We are proud to front these views of refugees and putting in our minds the needs to come to a consensus on the best practices which are less harmful to refugees and asylum seekers.

While this debate does exist in DRCongo, some countries have clearly taken position in favor of the grant of the refugee status to Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers. In 2018 the State Minister in charge of refugees in Uganda stated “Rwanda is like a cup of porridge, on top is cold but down it is boiling. They told us things how Rwanda was good but later on we realized that many things were not coherent, that why we continue to keep Rwandan refugees here”.   

Legal framework

The Democratic Republic of Congo is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Geneva Convention of 1951, the OUA Convention governing refugees of 1969, the DRCongo has her own local Refugee Act of 2002, and the current leadership that is making positive statements in favor of the protection of refugees. We have heard the President of DRCongo stating “We want to make DRCongo the land of Refugees, and DRCongo should offer protection to all those seeking asylum”.

Views from Rwandan refugees on why they continue running away,

A total of 10 refugee opinion leaders were interviewed among them 3 are based in Uganda, 4 are based in DRCongo, one is based in Europe, one is based in Zambia and one is based in Malawi.

As expected most of Rwandan refugees we talked to indicated that they are being persecuted in Rwanda and face so many challenges with the Congolese local authorities in order to seek asylum. But it is not only DRCongo rather it is almost the same in other countries much as the degree of awareness is high in other countries than in DRCongo, as one indicated “ Many countries have now known that Rwanda is not necessarily the way authorities and the media portray, Rwanda is rotten, it is a hell” This one refugee from Rwanda claimed, remember what the Minister in-charge of refugees here in Uganda said in 2018 “ Rwanda is like a cup of porridge, on top it is cold but inside it is boiling”.

These are some of few reasons why some Rwandans are being obliged to leave their country in order to seek asylum in other countries mainly Eastern DRCongo.

The lack of justice in Rwanda which has been replaced by killings of people who they think is in conflict with the Rwandan regime. The offense in Rwanda is for the whole family members, a mistake for one person makes all the family members face brutal punishment including killings. With that alone, if you know that a family member has committed what they describe as offense, you automatically know that the security services will also come and arrest you, with the high chance of being killed, that fear makes many people to run away. That makes you fear and if you are prudent enough, you have to plan how to leave. To make the matter worse if the person who has committed an offence runs away, this is so bad for the whole family members.

Just look at the situation of those who left Rwandan during the imposed strict lockdown, many people sneak into Congo are living in Goma, but during the Volcano eruption they went back Rwanda, unfortunately many among them were arrested and are still detained on accusations that they are spies working for FDLR armed group. The few who survived ran back to Congo and they are here in Goma, but no one has tried to help them in order to seek for refugee status.

Taking away people’s businesses through a regime strategy of fabricated taxes. They place on you a high amount of money claiming that it was for taxes especially when they realize that your business is developing and then they take it and give it to someone who is connected to the regime. They think that once people are economically strong they can challenge the regime thus the strategy to keep people in extreme poverty. Once they do that, there is no where you can go in order to claim, and you cannot even share with others about this either through social media or in your area. If you do so, then they will come for you and arrest and place on you so many charges including the Genocide.

There is no access to land as most of the land is being controlled by the government, they gives it to people who are part of the regime. The few who still own land are facing also taxes on their land which is used as the strategy to grab them the land, and later on they found themselves with nothing. Without no land, many people find their lives difficult because they do not have a source of income. It is the government to give out the seeds to people and you cannot use your own seeds for those who were given land, it is the government to harvest your crops and it is the government to buy your products at a lower price and you have nothing to say, and in all these you have nothing much to say. In Rwanda you cannot even know who is spy, in case you comment negatively about this when you are with your friends, the government will know and they will come and arrest you and you will spend so many years in prison.

If you say something, they arrest you and later kill you, they have many ways of killings, and sometimes they can even say that they killed you because you wanted to grab a gun from the security guarding the prison. When you see how other people are mysteriously dying especially when they face issues with the government or when their relatives have problems with the government, then you develop fear and plan to leave the country.

On political level there are issues, while the Hutus are purely excluded, the Tutsi are now also divided into two groups. The first group in power are Tutsi who came from Uganda after the 1994 Genocide and are the ones in power, they are too radical and want to control everything through oppressing all people. The second group are Tutsi who lived in Rwanda they are now being pushed away from power and are being also killed like Hutus, they are moderate and believe in respect of human dignity and in the reconciliation of all Rwandans in order to live together.

Imposing taxes on the most vulnerable and those who fail to pay are considered as enemies of the state, they are either arrested or killed in order impose fear among people in the purpose to subdue them. Some among these taxes include:

Taxes on value (Umosoro kunyungu),

Ordinary Taxes (Umusoro usanzwe),

Land Taxes (Umusoro wubutaka),

Taxes over property (Umusoro wumutungo),

Taxes on rentals and assets left behind by exiled people (Umusoro kumanzu),

Contribution to value of being integrity (umusanzu wa gaciro),

Taxes or contribution of being Rwandan, both to those in Rwanda and all those outside Rwanda,

Taxes on public servants,

Taxes for development (Umusoro wamajyambere) used for infrastructure at local levels,

The evictions of people from their land in pretense of development programs and if you show some form of wanting to know, they either arrest you or kill you. And the same time engage in a war against anyone who is perceived as witness.

The total freezing of the freedom of expression and the abuses against those who have tried to use social media in terms of sharing information or opinions especially opinions which are against what the government is putting in place. They will come for you and either arrest you or kill you. Sometimes they shoot at you and then claim that you wanted to escape during the operation of arrests. They have so many ways of killing people and this happens to all those who want to know why things are done in that way.

Then the control of the whole local administration by the regime cadres who are also used as spies in order to collect information about what people are saying and who is saying what, so in Rwanda almost everyone is a spy against another person. There is no rights of associations, no freedom of speech and you must only obey to orders from the security services.

These are the major causes why people are running away from Rwanda in order to seek asylum in others countries.

Interviews conducted by Jackson Baguma

Global Refugee Leaders Forum


Author: Kuliloshi Pecos