Urgent call to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to immediately put to the end the forced repatriation of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo back to Rwanda.
We continue following with a particular attention the UNHCR interesting and encouraging arguments to discourage the deal between the UK and Rwanda over refugees. We strongly welcome this new UNHCR new development and encourage the UN Body in charge of refugees to make considerable changes of policy towards Rwandan refugees in the world.
The UNHCR statement made public on April 14th, 2022 rightly portrays exactly the situation in Rwanda and how the country is not appropriate to offer safety and protection to refugees.
Therefore we get this opportunity to ask UNHCR to also change her policy towards Rwandan refugees in various countries in the world. Some amongst Rwandan refugees lost their refugee status in a deal called “Rwandan refugee secession clause” and have not yet benefited support from UNHCR. Recently Radio France International indicated that more than 8,000 Rwandan refugees in Congo-Brazaville lost their refugee status since 2017, in the Democratic Republic of Congo since last year 2021 up to now UNHCR Field Officers are regularly telling refugees to get prepared for the refugee secession clause, this year 2022 alone UNHCR greatly reduced the protection space to Rwandan refugees in Goma DRCongo by only limiting protection services such as medical treatment, education, food and shelter to very few number of refugees in Goma town mainly from Burundi. This is viewed as a way to prepare them to start planning to go back or integrate the local communities in their ways called “camouflage”. As per now only less than 200 Rwandan refugees have access to UNHCR support in Goma, and in the whole North Kivu Province. Yet Rwandan refugees represent more than 87% of the entire population in North Kivu, DRC, among them only 200,000 refugees are identified by UNHCR which represents only 25% of the entire refugee population in North Kivu estimated at more than 700,000, the rest are still forced to remain unknown and as consequence not protected. Out of the 200,000 refugees in North Kivu recognized by UNHCR only less than 3,000 refugees have valid refugee documents as per now, and little efforts are done to ensure they access these documents which are critical for their protection.
Since 2010 UNHCR made priority the forced repatriation of Rwandan refugees back to Rwanda in what it is called durable solution, and since then up to now more than 100,000 refugees have been so far victims of such operations which are merely at the benefit of the Government of Rwanda. Among Rwandan refugees in Goma currently at least 5/10 have been forced to repatriate to Rwanda but later on they came back, UNHCR Uganda estimates that more than 76% of the Congolese refugees in Uganda are Kinyarwanda speaking, the reality is that most of them are those repatriated to Rwanda and then left Rwanda towards Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi where they are registered as Congolese refugees.
UNHCR field staffs here in Goma are much aware about such deals between them and Rwanda which has so many consequences, deprives refugees from access protection and exposes them to risks. UNHCR here in Goma instead justifies these operations as important for the protection of Rwandan refugees. However serious questions remain unanswered by UNHCR Goma. How can we argue that it is better to remove refugees in Masisi North Kivu, in Rutshuru, in Nyiragongo and send them to Rwanda for protection?
We still believe that North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo has better opportunities for refugees in terms of freedom, human rights, economic and social opportunities, the only challenge is that these opportunities are not capitalized.
We therefore call upon UNHCR for the following:
To immediately put to the end the forced repatriation deal of refugees back to Rwanda, as we believe this UNHCR deal might have also motivated other political actors to do the same,
To turn the transit center in Mugunga Goma for those facing the forced repatriation into a Reception Center of new arrivals from Rwanda and from other countries,
To prioritize the identification and recognition of all Rwandan refugees in eastern DRCongo since 1994 up to now and issue them valid refugee documents, and extend to them humanitarian services,
To claim back the protection of refugees, promote the protection of Rwandan refugees in eastern DRCongo, and criminalize all efforts aiming at discouraging the protection of refugees in North Kivu,
Mobilize the international community and the local community on the priorities to support refugees in their various challenges through humanitarian relief aid,
Clearly and publicly recognize that Rwanda is not safe for refugees, and discourage states to think about sending refugees back to Rwanda,
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
In-Charge of Refugees and Foreigners