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Refugees in Goma after the Volcano eruption and the current State of Siege in North Kivu DRCongo

Presenting the situation of refugee victims of Nyiragongo Volcano eruption during a popular Talk-show organized by Radio Okapi on Wednesday November 3rd, 2021 at the Catholic University of La Sapientia in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Radio Okapi is the United Nations Mission in DRCongo top Radio and the first popular radio in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In its programme “Dialogue among Congolese” the Radio focused on the resilience of the communities in Goma who were affected by the Nyiragongo Volcano in May 2021.

As organization we viewed it necessary to alert the audience, the local authorities, the media and others interested people on the situation of refugees. This is one among our priorities to ensure that this time refugees and asylum seekers are not left out in various national events.

And as usual, we were the only ones who represented and engaged the audience on the situation of refugees in Goma and her surroundings. With the three minutes allocated to us we managed to awake the audience on the presence of refugees in Nyiragongo.

First of all we clarified of the abusive use of the word “refugee” by the population who always connect it to any one in DRCongo who is displaced from his/her habitual abode. For the sake of clarity and in order to minimize confusion which is created, we briefly explained the difference between a refugee and Internally Displaced Persons. This confusion is so much maintained by the presence and the visibility of UNHCR mainly in interventions towards Internally Displaced Persons at the expense of refugees in most cases abandoned to themselves. During our interactions with the audience at the break time, this young man came and screamed ” but UNHCR here is the one supporting all these people in camps, then why do you tell us that they are not refugees?”. This led to more other interactions which continued and opened up engagement with lecturers at the Catholic University of La Sapientia on issues of forced migrants in eastern DRCongo.

We had also opportunity to clarify on various allegations and showed how most of the places which were hit by the Volcano were highly refugee concentrated areas, these refugees do not own land, they do not own the houses there, they all rent or guard the space which belong to rich people in Goma.  And refugees are in those areas due to various reasons but mainly because of security, and the possibility to get a cheap house where they can live.

In the process when the Government and humanitarian agencies started the registration of the Volcano victims in order to access relief and relocation, the owners of the houses and the plot of land came in and pushed refugees away and up to now most of the refugees are without help. Now the owners of the houses and the plot of lands are the ones who were put on the list as the true “victims”. That is one among the various reasons why wealth people in Goma are part of the volcano victims and the true victims are left out as indicated the Civil Society Actors who were present in the talk-show.

Lastly we also indicated how the whole identification exercise deliberately left out refugees due to the criteria which were set up “being the owner of the place, having a Congolese Voter’s Card, speaking the language among others” but also hinted that from the start refugees were left out, even in the communication before, during and after the Volcano up to now, the messages were only either in French, Kiswahili or the local languages which are not spoken by many refugees.

We also had more other things to mention but the time was not on our favor.

Refugee victims of the Nyiragongo Volcano eruption are into four (4) categories:

The first group: Those whose houses which they rent were burnt by the Volcano,

The second group: Those who left their homes and moved towards the safe places as directed by the authorities and in the process they lost all their properties,

The third group: Those who are in various places of Goma who received and shelted other refugees and Congolese in their homes and in the process they consumed all what they had,

The fourth group: Refugees who were chased from the houses they were living because the owners of the houses wanted to be there in order to convince that they are among the victims, and others who were chased from the houses for various reasons.

All these groups of refugees are without support up to now despite the promises of UNHCR to come in and help them as it was communicated by the UNHCR Representative in Kinshasa on June 19th, 2021.

It is necessary to carry out a study looking into the effects of the eruption of the Volcano to the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Nyiragongo and in Goma in order to come up with appropriate response.

Evaluation of the state of Siege in North Kivu

This was the Theme on the second day of the Talk-show organized by Radio Okapi.

On the issue of the protection of Civilians we managed to get the opportunity and argued about the forced repatriation of Rwandan Refugees back to Rwanda and the whole operation is well supported and facilitated by the United Nations Mission in DRCongo. Basing on the fact that all these Rwandan who are being forcibly repatriated are refugees but surprisingly most of them are not repatriated as refugees but as combatants which may not be true.

Our observations also indicate that Rwandan refugees who are repatriated by force do not actually stay in Rwanda. A section is recruited by Rwandan security services and is deployed back to DRCongo as militia group supported by Rwanda, others come back to RDCongo by themselves through risky ways, another sections does leave Rwanda towards either Uganda or Tanzania and only very do remain in Rwanda.

In DRCongo many among those who come back are denied refugee status, some fear to report back to the authorities and others just hide into the local population.

In Uganda these Rwandans use three (3) main strategies: Some do registered with UNHCR as Congolese refugees, others do camouflage within the local population and remain without documents and others are kept as reserve force for possible military recruitment to launch a war in eastern DRCongo.

Global Refugee Compact meeting

Yesterday Thursday we also joined the meeting organized by Global Refugee Compact and shared with others on the situation of refugees in eastern DRCongo.

We submitted five (5) recommendations on issues affecting refugees in eastern DRCongo.

  1. Request the UNHCR and the Government of DRCongo to urgently recognize and issue refugee identifications to all refugees in the eastern parts of the Country especially those who have been there since 1994,
  2. To engage with donors in order to put in place flexible funding opportunities which can support various refugee initiatives,
  3. Enable refugees to share skills, experiences and knowledge among themselves,
  4. Offer trainings and other various opportunities to refugees in eastern DRCongo who have been ignored over the years,
  5. Put in place meetings for those who can only speak French especially those in DRCongo,

Author: Kuliloshi Pecos