Despite the current situation in North Kivu, there are opportunities which should be capitalized in order to ensure the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR should only wake-up and bring other actors on board.
We call upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to get involved in order to ensure the protection of refugees in eastern DRCongo mainly in North Kivu.
The current situation of refugees and asylum seekers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo especially refugees and asylum seekers from Rwanda in North Kivu is worrying us since M23 rebels started war against the Government. Various actors have used social media to propagate messages against refugees and asylum seekers showing that they are a threat to the security and came on a mission to Rwanda as spies. The situation is more complicated because most of them are not identified by UNHCR and have no documents, UNHCR does not even know where they live and how they are living.
Out of 700,000 estimated refugees and asylum seekers in North Kivu, only 200,000 are identified by UNHCR among them only less than 2,000 only around Goma have valid refugee documents and among them only less than 150 refugees are in contact with UNHCR and UNHCR can easily trace them. To make the matter worse UNHCR over the years has implemented a policy which is perceived by refugees as pro-Rwanda which discourages efforts towards the protection of refugees, Rwandan refugees are highly discriminated and sometimes excluded from accessing UNHCR services as the priority is given to Burundian refugees and these Burundian refugees are believed to be Congolese Nationals who were introduced in the system.
And with the current situation, UNHCR remains invisible at the time when refugees and asylum seekers need her services.
In this confusion, how do we know an asylum seeker from Rwanda and a Rwandan spy sent by the government of Rwanda on an espionage mission? This remains the major question of various security services officers we talked to about this matter. UNHCR deliberately decided not to put in place specific places of residence for refugees in North Kivu, which also is a major problem currently as security services want to see these refugees in specific places called “refugee camps”.
While the composition of M23 rebels is highly dominated by Tutsi, this have so far affected the security of Tutsi asylum seekers in North Kivu, and UNHCR is silent on how best to ensure their protection. The political position of the Tutsi population in North Kivu who did not condemn M23 but only called for protection has also been negatively perceived by the population and this may lead to a generalization, as also the local population does not have information how a section of Tutsi is persecuted in Rwanda.
Information coming to us indicating how refugees were recruited in Uganda to join M23 yet UNHCR and her partners were present leaves us with questions, the forced repatriation of refugees to Rwanda over the years and in some situation some of these people are recycled by Rwanda and sent back to eastern DRCongo for war activities does not give credit to the work of UNHCR, the failure to let the population in camps of refugees which are baptized Internally Displaced Camps makes the situation more complicated because a section of people know some camps as for “Rwandans” who may be infiltrated there by Rwanda.
At this time when UNHCR was supposed to communicate a lot in order to ensure the protection of refugees, UNHCR has decided to resort to silence and abandon the very people who make her exist.
In Goma, the area of Bujovu is one among the areas which host thousands of Rwandan asylum seekers and who do not have yet documents because there are no services to identify them. Most of those who come to this area in Goma, cross the border illegally either at night, some pay money between 30$ to 50$ to both Rwandan and Congolese security services, and others are simply trafficked with high risks of sexual abuses especially on women.
Since this week started Bujovu has been at the center of security services operations because it hosts a big number of Tutsi among the asylum seekers, information coming to us does indicate that some have been deported back to Rwanda where their lives may be at risk, and UNHCR has opted to remain silence.
We humbly come to you to help us to remind UNHCR and the Government of Congo about their obligations to ensure the protection of refugees. Since these tensions started neither UNHCR nor the Government of DRC has made a single statement calling upon all actors to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are protected, and to direct those who may be in difficult situations what to do.
We call upon UNHCR to urgently change that strategy of silence which does not help in the protection of refugees, UNHCR should be more vocal on refugee issues and give clear guidance on what should be done,
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
In-charge of refugees and foreigners
COJESKI-DRC, Coordination of North Kivu,