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Brief Report on DRCongo Security Operations in refugee area in Rusayo. DRCongo should be reminded about her obligations to protect refugees

Brief Report on security operations in Rusayo, Nyiragongo Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which led to arbitrary arrests of refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR Goma has failed her mandate to protect refugees, UNHCR is too weak and this makes it part of the problem and for this to end, and UNHCR Goma should be strengthened in favor of the protection of refugees.

By the time we made public this report refugees and local leaders we talked indicated that 9 refugees and asylum seekers were arrested, among them 3 refugees have been released, one refugee registered in Masisi and 5 asylum seekers are not yet seen.

Legal regime

The DRC is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the UN Convention on refugees of 1951, the African Union Convention on refugees, and have put in place her own domestic refugee law of 2002. DRC has also put in place the National Refugee Commission which handles refugee affairs and also the existing of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In the morning of Thursday September 30th, 2021 the D.R.C security services conducted operations in Rusayo which is one among the villages of Bukumu in Nyiragongo, Goma the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to an interview broadcasted by the National Radio of RTNC, the army officers who commanded the operation indicated that more than 100 persons were arrested among them 37 “foreigners”.

Background information

Both North Kivu and Ituri Provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo are under “state of Siege” which gives all powers to the army. Because of their strategic positioning to neighboring countries both North Kivu, and Ituri do receive asylum seekers from Rwanda and Uganda among others, but also these two provinces have a big number of refugees who are not yet recognized especially Rwandan refugees who fled the genocide in 1994.

Myths and stereotypes have characterized all hostile responses and attacks against foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees who are perceived as the cause of insecurity in the two provinces. In order to satisfy critics among the political sphere and the civil society the Military Regime has often targeted areas which highly habituated by foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees especially in Goma, where most of security operations have been conducted in refugees, asylum seekers and foreigners concentrated areas which have been praised by some political leaders in Goma.

Circumstances before the security operations in Rusayo

Two weeks back the Civil Society in Ndosho alerted about generalized gangs in the area who attacked people in their houses and stole their things. One night according to the Civil Society these gangs operated for more than 3 hours without the intervention of the security services, and no response was given why the army failed to intervene during that night. We tend to believe that the security operations in Rusayo could have been a response in order to look for those gangs.

Why the security operations in Rusayo?

Various actors in Goma believe that Rusayo has so many people who have guns affiliated to the “FDLR” Rwandan Rebel Group which is operating in North Kivu. A lawyer member of the civil society told us “I’m happy with the military operations because there so many rebels in that areas and they do even impose taxes to people who want to go to Virunga National Parc”. At what extend this information is true? We could confirm this and we do not yet have more information about this affirmation. But for sure the military operations did not focus on those who impose taxes to people going to the National Parc, and those targeted were on contrary those who need protection.

Rusayo also had some Rwandan undocumented migrants who always come during this period and are highly involved in cultivating, these Rwandan are always hired by Congolese who own land, and they keep them in their houses. Generally they do go back to Rwanda when the period of cultivating is finished towards the end of October. But also Rusayo has so many refugees and asylum seekers especially those who are most vulnerable and who cannot managed to rent a house in some places in Goma, they go there and negotiate with Congolese in order to guard their land, so they build small houses for them and stay there, but also Rusayo has some people who left armed groups and decided to integrate the community which the government has not managed to put responses in place for them.

During the operations

This refugee woman whose husband has been arrested told us “it was around 5am, I heard people shouting from outside, telling us to open the door, I went and opened, then I saw so many soldiers outside. They told me to bring the gun, but I told them we do not have it, then they asked me if they can enter the house, I said yes, no problem, and then three among them entered the house. Those who entered were two soldiers and one Police Officer, they checked in the sitting room but found nothing. Then they asked me about my husband I told them he was sleeping, they entered in the bedroom and found him. They told him to bring the gun, but he told them that he does not have it, then they told him to dress up and move out, and then checked the whole house but found nothing. Then they took him and moved with him to the place which I do not know up to now. They took his refugee documents and said that he should be arrested because he is a Rwandan refugees, on account that he should be the one facilitating the infiltration of Rwandan asylum seekers in DRCongo, so they arrested him and left me at home with the children, that is why I have come here at this office to seek for your assistance. I want my husband back, he is not a rebel, he knows nothing about guns and he is not a thief, he does not facilitate people from Rwanda to enter Congo”.

This other women says also “I was outside sweeping in compound at around 6am today Thursday September 30th, 2021, outside my house, I saw two people in front of me putting on a civilian clothes, then they asked me about my husband I told them he was sleeping, they entered the house, they asked for the gun but I did not have it. They entered the bedroom and asked my husband to wake up and go with them, then more came in and checked everything and found his refugee IDs and also the refugee ID for my mother in law, which they also took with him. Among those soldiers some were Tutsi and they are the ones who gave orders to arrest my husband despite the fact that Congolese Soldiers had opted to release him because he was a refugee.  The Tutsi soldiers said “these are refugees, you put them in the Lorry so that we can deport them to their country of origin said the Tutsi Officer, they are not supposed to be here. Rwanda is safe, why are they here? They took him sand left me with the children that is why I came here to seek for your assistance. My husband has no problem, he even comes here and attends Sunday refugee meetings here”.

One among refugees who were arrested stated “after being arrested, they took us to Keyshero in a place called SOTRAKI, from there they told us who had the refugee identification to be on side and then they put us in a different vehicle which took us to the Migration Directorate, where CNR came to facilitate our release”.

Visit in Rusayo on Thursday and Friday October 1st, 2021

During our visit in Rusayo on Thursday September 30th, and Friday October 1st, 2021, we observed the following:

The village of Karambi was the main area where most of refugees and asylum seekers were arrested from, and mainly in on one road which was handled by a cologne of soldiers which the survivors described as Congolese Soldiers being commanded by Tutsi, and in this area we have so far been informed that 9 refugees and asylum seekers were arrested among them include:

3 Refugees who had CNR/ UNHCR Documents from Goma (these ones were detained at the Directorate of Migration in Goma) and they include.

One refugee who had CNR/ UNHCR document delivered from Masisi (this one and his whole family remain in unknown place up to now,

Five asylum seekers who are part of the 1994 refugees who are were waiting for the registration by UNHCR and CNR, (these ones are not yet known where they are),

The other areas in Karambi refugees and asylum seekers were not arrested, they told us “The Commandant who came here with soldiers, was a Congolese woman, we told her that we are refugees, so they only checked our houses, she told us not to fear and that she was not going to arrest us, we showed her our refugee documents and then they left”. Generally the places in Rusayo where Congolese soldiers visited refugees were not arrested. This man who came in DRCongo in 1994 at the age of 2 years told us in a meeting yesterday Sunday October 3rd, 2021 “ They came home and asked my documents, I told them that I’m a refugee and I’m still waiting for UNHCR and CNR to register me, they asked what shows, I told them I had a letter from Global Refugee Leaders Forum/ Humanite Plus, they told me to bring it. When they saw it they said it was not enough, they asked me 10$ which I did not have, but I gave them 5$ and they went, they were all Congolese Soldiers who visited my home.  The nine (9) refugees and asylum seekers were arrested in North part of Karambi Village, in Rusayo and they indicated that this happened because the operations in this area was commanded by Tutsi.

The local authorities in that particular area of Nord Karambi/ Rusayo could not be able to identify the refugees and asylum seekers who were arrested in that area but they showed all houses were each person has been living.

Reactions from the authorities

On Friday October 1st, 2021 we visited the area and talked to the local leaders of the villages in Rusayo, they showed each house where refugees and asylum seekers were arrested from, but they did not know that these people were refugees and could not know their full names, they only know them as “banyarwanda” that means “Rwandans”. However fellow refugees in the area are the ones who described to us people who were arrested, but also some names of people are not yet known.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR Goma),

We alerted UNHCR and in response they indicated to have engaged the Congolese National Commission for Refugees known as “CNR” and remained engaged to keep a close eye on monitoring the situation.

The National Commission for Refugees (CNR Goma), we alerted them also but they did not reply and up to now all our efforts to engage with them have been in vain.

The Military authorities in Goma

During an Interview broadcasted by the Congolese National Radio and Television on Friday October 1st, 2021 during the morning News edition at 6:15 am the military authorities indicated that they arrested more than 100 people among them 37 “foreigners.

Reactions of people in Social Media

Since Thursday September 30th, up to Saturday October 2nd, 2021 various people in four (4) Whatsapp Groups posted about this and praised the security services for arresting the “37 foreigners” who are at the cause of their insecurity. Most of the posts in these groups focused on the 37 foreigners and not much was said about the more than 80 Congolese who were even caught with military equipment.

Observations

While we do support all efforts aiming at ensuring the security of persons and their property in Goma, we are so much concerned about human rights violations during these operations, and the phobia against “foreigners”, who remain the main targets of these operations in Goma. So far around 5 military operations have been conducted in Goma and 4 operations have targeted areas which is dominated by foreigners, refugees and asylum seekers in Goma.

Many questions remain unanswered on the circumstances which provoked the arrest of refugees and asylum seekers in Rusayo, especially how did gangs operate for more than 3 hours without being threatened by the security forces in Ndosho Goma,

People we talked to around Mugunga alleged that these security operations did not target the right place which keeps so many gangs and guns mainly the place called “Amour/ Mugunga” and unfortunately focused on the vulnerable people who remain voiceless,

It is unfortunate that most of local leaders in Rusayo do not know some of the people they lead, and do not have even a record of people in their areas, at the same time we don’t understand the motives why generally only refugee men were arrested and also took them with their documents.

In case the allegations from refugees are true that some commanders were Tutsi then this may raise questions on who these were, from where and how could they be deployed in an area which is dominated by Hutus,

As we note positive steps taken by UNHCR Goma, we are concerned to observe that UNHCR is not yet prepared to handle such situations as UNHCR remained closed in their offices rather than to journey with refugees during such a difficult moment. UNHCR continues to show her limits in order to offer effective protection to refugees in North Kivu despite all existing opportunities available currently.

It is difficult to understand that despite the fact that there were so many opportunities where the Congolese National Commission for Refugees (CNR) could have intervened through the presence in order to save refugees, they did not do so and were not seen on ground, during such a situation working from the office could have not been the best option, and up to now there is no reactions yet from the “Refugee Regime” in Goma.

Refugees who had documents were detained in the Directorate of Migration Cells rather than being detained in a Police Cell, this poses questions why refugees are not in Police? And why UNHCR and CNR were not brought on board in order to handle matter connected to refugees and asylum seekers, but also it is evident that these refugees were arbitrary arrested. These operations have been going on as we have indicated and they were expected, but on top of that we alerted the refugee regime in Goma about this, what could justify the silence and the inefficacy of the refugee regime in Goma?

Recommendations

The Military Authorities in North Kivu and the DRC Government

To put to end and discourage military operations against refugees and asylum seekers in Goma,

To investigate and hold accountable all those who were involved in the arbitrary arrests of refugees and asylum seekers in Rusayo,

To put in place a strong, active and operational local administration at the village levels that can fully handle so many issues including gangs which are in the city,

To clearly give instructions to all security officers to ensure the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in Goma, and desist from cheap popularity by targeting refugees and asylum seekers,

To always seek for the technical support from both CNR and UNHCR on best approaches towards refugees and asylum seekers, and engage with other actors of the Civil Society working on refugee issues,

To closely work with us and other actors of the Civil Society who have wider knowledge on refugees issues for proper guidance and exchange of information, it is unfortunate that the military regime has not yet engaged with all actors working on refugee issues in North Kivu,

To put to the end to all allegations of deportation of refugees and asylum seekers, and always provide a details list of refugees and asylum seekers who might be arrested during the operations,

To clearly separate refugees and asylum seekers from general foreigners,

To strengthen the National Commission for Refugees (CNR) in order to respond effectively to the needs of the protection of all refugees and asylum seekers in North Kivu,

To work closely with refugees in order to access accurate information about refugees and put in place an consultation arrangement with all those involved in refugee affairs in the province,

CNR and UNHCR Goma

To deploy all their efforts to ensure information dissemination targeting various authorities about the situation of refugees in North Kivu,

To deploy efforts and quickly identified what happened to other refugees and asylum seekers who are not yet seen up to now,

To foster and promote partnership with the Civil Society and local actors at the community levels in order to ensure the effective protection of refugees,

To leave the offices and do more work in the fields where refugees and asylum seekers are living,

To issue identification quickly to each refugee and register all asylum seekers especially Rwandans of the period of 1994-1998,

To put in place urgent funds which can quickly respond to emergency situation in North Kivu during this particular period of the state of siege,

To strengthen refugee community leaders and facilitate them in order to collect information on refugees who face problems,

Donors and Development partners

To put in place various funding opportunities focusing on refugees in eastern DRCongo,

To condition the inclusion of refugees in all projects that are being funded in eastern DRCongo,

To engage with the government at the diplomatic level in order to respect all engagements towards refugees,

Thanks

Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos

Head of Refugee Affairs/ COJESKI/ DRC

 

Author: Kuliloshi Pecos