Refugees in eastern DRCongo victims of forced repatriation as a strategy to scare them, devalue the refugee status and create phobia among refugees who would like to seek for assistance from UNHCR.
Basing on statistics from the Congolese National Commission for Refugees (CNR) since 2010 more than 100,000 refugees were taken back to Rwanda, which we view as forced repatriation. In Goma, North Kivu such repatriation process is where there is money, and it is not all service available for all refugees.
One among the questions we are confronted with of the recent especially from all those who have contributed to the work of UNHCR is “what does UNHCR do with the money donors contribute”? We may not be able to answer to that question as per now but what we have observed on ground is that UNHCR is not interested in “the protection of refugees, UNHCR move is to discourage people from seeking asylum”, efforts and activities seem to aim at helping refugees to lose hope in UNHCR protection in order to look for alternatives by themselves rather than to journey with refugees in search for available options. We have reservations with that approach, the results and the motivation of such way of doing things which seems to be purely political. Why should UNHCR in Goma be political? What are the interests of this institution in that political position?
One among the sexy projects that consume millions of dollars in North Kivu is “UNHCR forced repatriation of refugees”. This is a paradox between what UNHCR is and what it is doing. So many questions surrounding such forced repatriation exercise. How do refugees know about repatriation, what kind of information provided to them? Where do they get this information? How accurate is the information? What status do refugees have during the forced repatriation process? What is their identity? Which information do they have about their country mainly Rwanda? How do they get this information? Is the information accurate? What is the real motivation of UNHCR in making forced repatriation a priority? How do refugees benefit from it? What other options do refugees have before the repatriation? Why should they not be repatriated? And what happens to refugees once in Rwanda? Does UNHCR fully know the fate of those so far repatriated? Why can’t we all work together to make Rwanda safer and attracting for all her citizens?
Why should refugee repatriation be a priority in DRCongo?
Anyway here is a touching testimony from one refugee who was victim of such forced repatriation.
Aline (this is not her true name) came to DRCong in 1994 as a young girl she a survivor of the genocide, she went through all the wars and survived up to 2008. In the evening of that fateful day, a war started in Masisi North Kivu, they moved the whole night towards Walikale, reaching in the certain village they were told by some Congolese about the presence of UNHCR which can help them with food, shelter and security especially physical protection. When they reached UNHCR offices they were told that the only help available is to take them back to Rwanda. The group of refugees were divided over that, some accepted and others escaped to unknown places because they feared to go back.
Aline joined those who accepted the offer from UNHCR and after two days they were loaded in UNHCR Vehicles up to Rwanda via Bukavu in South Kivu. Aline did not have any document showing that she was a refugee, and UNHCR did not even find out if she could not be safe in Rwanda. No interview was done, actually they indicated that they only entered in contact with UNHCR Officers twice, the first was when they were told about the return option, and the second contact was when they were put in Lories. After crossing the border into Rwanda, the moved and at a certain point UNHCR left them there on the way and gave them some money around 6$ to pay for transport up to their homes. Aline went to her parent’s home where she stayed for few days. In the process local leaders together with security services in Rwanda started following her because she raised the issue of wanting her property mainly land and houses to return back to her. She struggled for more than 8 years in vain, as she decided to report to the authorities in Kigali then the security services in her area planned to kill her, this forced her to save her life in a certain morning when she jumped in a Bus and moved towards DRCongo where she is still waiting for a refugee status since 2014 up to now.
Aline is part of so many others who were victims of forced repatriation by UNHCR, and then came back claiming security threats, when they reached in DRCongo they were not granted refugee status, some have been on the waiting list for about 10 years, 7 years, ..While others who came back to RDCongo they opted not to report back to UNHCR as refugees because they fear to be deported back to Rwanda.