Recommendations the United Nations on the situation of refugees in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo mainly for refugees in Goma and in the entire North Kivu Province.
These recommendations were made after a series of activities with refugees mainly: Our weekly meetings with refugees in Goma held every Sunday at our offices in Goma, our interactions with refugees on daily basis at our offices in Goma on various issues, two focused group discussions with refugees in Goma, our visit at Munzenze main prison of Goma, and our various interactions and meetings with stakeholders in Goma, actors of the Civil Society, Government officials, the security officers, the United Nations officials and the media.
Since 1996 UNHCR lost the protection of refugees in DRCongo and currently UNHCR approach in eastern DRCongo seems to discourage efforts towards the protection of refugees. Here in the eastern part of DRCongo UNHCR has put in place a vague approach and lacks vision towards refugees, in some parts UNHCR has completely ignored refugees and migrated towards Internally Displace Persons. UNHCR estimates refugees in DRCongo at 526, among them 200,000 which is 45% are living in North Kivu, among them only less than 2,000 refugees in North Kivu have valid documents, and only 150 refugees have access to some form of humanitarian rele3if aid.
Issue one: Recognition and identification of each refugee in North Kivu.
Problem: Basing of the statistics from the Congolese National Commission for refugees, only 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers are recognized in North Kivu. We estimate that more than 700,000 refugees are living in the province mainly from Rwanda and Burundi. They all lack protection, humanitarian assistance and exposed to all forms of risks and are not recognized as refugees. While UNHCR estimates refugees in DRCongo at 526,000 we believe that refugees in DRCongo are more than 1,500,000 and that makes more 2/3 of refugees who are not yet identified and as such lack protection in all forms.
Put in place a refugee registration process and a fully funded registration department at CNR that works on cases daily,
Continuous grant refugee documents to refugees especially those from Rwanda who are in DRCongo since 1994,
Grant refugees documents to asylum seekers in North Kivu who have been waiting for the refugee status more than 10 years now,
Put in place a national programme aiming at creating awareness and registering all refugees and asylum seekers in the whole country,
Bringing various on board in order to handle issues related to refugees in DRCongo, among them local leaders, traditional leaders, church leaders, the civil society, humanitarian actors, development partners and donors among others,
Issue two: Entry points of asylum seekers,
Problem: Many asylum seekers indicated challenges they are facing in order to cross to DRCongo, some are returned back to their countries because they do not have documents, others have to go through risky paths in order to cross into DRCongo, others have to pay money with women have to offer sex in exchange with services in order to cross the borders. Last year in 2021 more than 1,000 foreigners were deported back to their countries from North Kivu among them asylum seekers who were accused of illegal entry on DRCongo territory.
Train and well facilitate the security services and Migration officers at the borders between DRC, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi on refugee issues,
Create a direct contact and direct connection through between UNHCR/CNR and Migration Officers at the borders, but also putting in place specific officers in charge of welcoming asylum seekers,
To put in place interpreters who can facilitate in communication and reduce challenges caused by the language barrier,
To ensure that each asylum seeker is given the chance to interact with UNHCR/CNR before any decision is made about him/her,
To encourage partners to put in place activities which can help asylum seekers right from the borders,
UNHCR should have in place partners dealing with asylum seekers right from the borders, and ensure that asylum seekers are given necessary information,
Issue Three: End deportation of asylum seekers
Problem: The political and security authorities in North Kivu have argued that “foreigners” are the perpetrators of all forms of insecurity, despite the fact that these accusations lack evidence, and are more populist. With the instauration of the State of Siege, many foreigners have been deported after being arrested in various military operations and refugees have also been victims. Rwandan refugees have paid the high price of being targeted by Rwandan authorities and taken back to Rwanda.
To put to the end the deportation of undocumented asylum seekers,
Asylum seekers and foreigners arrested during military operations should be referred to UNHCR/CNR before any decision of their deportation is made, and also being given opportunity to seek for legal services from civil society organizations,
Abstain from propaganda against foreigners claiming that they are the cause of the insecurity in North Kivu, desist from arbitrary arrests of foreigners in North Kivu,
Put in place a clear information strategy that can help foreigners to be fully aware about UNHCR/CNR services, and services offered by civil society organizations working on refugee issues,
Make sure that UNHCR Goma has put in place credible and trustworthy staffs who are not perceived as either residing in Rwanda or connected to the Government of Rwanda,
Issue Four: End forced repatriation of refugees
Problem: UNHCR/CNR and partners have maintained the forced repatriation programme, which has affected so many refugees, has created fear among refugees about UNHCR/CNR and viewed as a political tool to expose them to risks in their countries of origin, mainly Rwanda. Repatriation should not be considered as priority especially because that DRCongo has better options and alternatives that can ensure the well-being of refugees than their countries of origin. It is estimated that more than 100,000 refugees mainly from Rwanda have faced forced repatriation back to Rwanda since 2010.
UNHCR and the government of the Democratic of Congo may also to put into consideration all the other durable solutions a ways to respond to the needs of refugees such as resettlement and local integration.
Put to the end the forced deportation of refugees back to Rwanda, Central African Republic, Burundi among others and end all pretext that may justify the existence of such practice,
Putting in place a system and actors that can provide credible and true information to refugees about voluntary repatriation, and about the situation in Rwanda,
Provide refugees with accurate information and alternatives about their future lives rather than showing them the only option of repatriation which is being put in place,
To end the practice of motivating refugees to go back by showing them that they will get money as a “package for return” which has been the cause of many refugees to accept the offer to go back to Rwanda, but again do return back to DRCongo after getting the money,
Receive and register those who were forcefully repatriated and came back to North Kivu to seek refuge again,
Reduce funding to repatriation process of refugees and asylum seekers. Currently at least 7/10 refugees in Goma have ever been victims of forced repatriation back to Rwanda,
Promote resettlement of refugees to third countries and make operational activities that promotes local integration of refugees especially those who have been in DRCongo more than 3 decades now,
Issue Five: Deportation of refugees and asylum seekers
Problem: Since 2019 when the current regime took power, we have observed deportation of refugees mainly back to Rwanda and their family members allege the participation of UNHCR and CNR officers especially those in Goma. Rwanda security services have targeted some refugees in North Kivu and when they are arrested UNHCR and CNR failed to intervene for them and as conquences they were all deported,
To put to the end the deportation of refugees and asylum seekers in North Kivu,
To investigate and hold accountable UNHCR/CNR officers who are viewed to have played a role in the refugee deportation,
To trace back the whereabouts of refugees who were deported back to Rwanda in order to provide them with necessary legal assistance especially those who are believed to have been taken to Rwanda,
Issue Six: Physical security of refugees
Problem: There are refugees who have disappeared and no one knows what happened to them, some asylum seekers were arrested by security operatives and no one knows about them, and others have been targeted and killed by security services or people with guns. Refugees and asylum seekers are in various detention centers accused of being in conflict with the law, Munzenze main prison in Goma has refugees and asylum seekers who are believed to be found in Virunga National Parc, some who were arrested during military operations and accused to be members of armed groups, and those who are accused of other different crimes,
Provide information about refugees who disappeared and allow their family members to visit them,
End targeted assassination of refugees and asylum seekers,
Put particular attention to refugees and asylum seekers at risks especially those in detention centers,
Capacity building to various security services which are suspected as playing roles in refugee affaires,
Considerer the release of all refugees and asylum seekers in various detention centers in DRCongo, and prioritize efforts to ensure that they are protected,
Issue Seven: Place of residence for refugees
Problem: Refugees in North Kivu do not have recognized place of residence where they can enjoy protection from and access services. In Goma refugees from Rwanda are living just near the border with Rwanda at less than 10 m from the borders in Bujovu and Mapendo.
Put in place official settlements and other place recognized places of residence for refugees, far from the borders and ensure that these settlements are well protected, the UNHCR policies recognizes refugees to be allocated at more than 50km from the borders of their country,
Put in place a joint security force between the Congolese Army and the MONUSCO Forces to ensure the security of refugees in their settlements,
Work with local leaders, traditional leaders and other actors of the Civil Society in order to help all partners to have clear information about refugees and about the protection of refugees in North Kivu,
Put in place independent refugee leadership which works for the interests of refugees,
Issue Eight: Humanitarian Relief Aid
Problem: Thousands of refugees do not have access to humanitarian relief aid, UNHCR and most of humanitarian relief agencies and all organizations are focusing their attention to only Internally Displaced Persons, this has exposed refugees to many risks. In North Kivu Provinces we estimate that only 150 refugees have access to some form of humanitarian relief aid generally education for their children, health services, and accommodation among others. It is believed that 70% of those who access this aid are Congolese nationals who registered as Burundian refugees,
UNHCR should reclaim her traditional and natural mandate to support refugees with relief aid, put in place clear coordination strategy, and mobilization of various actors,
UNHCR/CNR should mobilize other humanitarian organizations in order to support refugees and asylum seekers,
To mobilize funding for refugee issues in North Kivu in particular and in Eastern DRCongo in general,
UNHCR should make a priority to clean up the database in order to ensure that those who are accused of being Congolese Nationals are removed,
UNHCR should ensure that the available relief aid is fairly distributed to all refugees without discrimination, especially to ensure that Rwandan refugees also benefit from the aid,
UNHCR should put in place other implementing partners who could help and put to the end the contract with her traditional partners who are accused of so many crimes against refugees,
Issue Nine: Reform UNHC/CNR
UNHCR and CNR are unclear on their policies and interventions towards refugees, they lack commitment and orientation to strive for the protection of refugees. Most of their efforts tend to discourage the protection of refugees.
Provide UNHCR/CNR with human resource, adequate financial support, and a clear vision that favors the protection of refugees,
To investigate and hold accountable all UNHCR/CNR staffs that are accused of various abuses against refugees in North Kivu,
To replace the current UNHCR human resource and put in place a new with a clear vision on how to ensure the protection of refugees,
Issue Ten: Refugee participation
Problem: Refugees are left out in various issues affecting their lives yet the effective protection of refugees is in the hands of refugees in their communities through their representatives. Most vocal refugees are negatively perceived and are not involved in consultations and planning. Much as there are a practice to organize election of refugee leaders in Goma, in most case these leaders are submitted to threats, intimidations and fear of their lives, on the other hand refugees outside Goma are not represented. Currently to become a refugee representative someone must be appointed by UNHCR and the CNR,
UNHCR/CNR should give opportunity to refugees to elect freely their representatives, support them financially and put end to threats against them,
UNHCR/CNR should create a conducive environment where refugee leaders should work from and freely engage on critical matters,
Ensure that all refugees in North Kivu are represented in decision making through election of refugee representatives in other areas in North Kivu,
Issue eleven: Transparency
Problem: UNHCR and her partners do receive funding from donors to support refugees, but on ground refugees and other stakeholders do not have information, how is the budget formulated, who contribute ideas about the budget, which refugees are involved, how much money is asked, for what, how much money is available, how is the money managed? …..On ground here in Goma some activities show that money may be embezzled such as education, health services, urgent interventions during COVID19 and during the Nyiragongo Volcano eruption, among others.
UNHCR DRCongo should put in mechanism which favor access to information about the available money and put in place mechanisms which can ensure that the available funds are not misused and that may need serious training of refugees, promote refugee participation in decision making, and encourage refugee free expression,
Donors should use various channels in order to ensure that refugees may access information about the funding given, and for what, this may be through social media, through press and media but also through interactions with refugees,
Donors should put in place specific funding opportunities for various organizations working on refugee issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also put in place flexible funding opportunities for refugee led initiatives,
Issue Twelve: Coordination
Problem: DRCongo lacks initiatives which encourage dialogue, sharing information and coordination among all actors involved in refugee affairs, that alone has reduced impact on ground on the issues affecting refugees,
Put in place coordination forums at national level and provincial levels which focus only on refugee issues and ensure that each actor including refugees are involved,
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
In-charge of Refugees and Foreigners
COJESKI-RDC, Coordination of North Kivi
Address: Kituku, on the Road to CCLK, after La Sapientia University, Kyeshero Goma.