Open letter calling upon the Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Antoinne Tshisekedi to withdraw refugees from the Luanda Angola Negotiations with President Paul Kagama of Rwanda on peace in the Eastern DRCongo.
Your Excellency Mr. the President,
Referring to the African Union Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa of 1969, article 2 (2) stipulates “The grant of asylum to refugees is a peaceful and humanitarian act and shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act by any Member State”.
The Luanda Angola negotiations for peace in DRCongo of July 6th, 2022 threatens the protection of refugees in DRCongo, violates the above disposition on the protection of refugees and may mislead to the perception that refugees are part of the problem in the region. We still share our convictions that refugees are not the problem, but they have problems and DRCongo is not doing enough to handle the issue. The situation of refugees in DRCongo is too ugly and may need more efforts in order to address and such efforts. In order to make the matter worse, refugees are part of the political deal between DRCongo and Rwanda.
DRCongo is member state to most of international legal frameworks on refugees and also has put in place her domestic refugee policy of 2022 which established the body in charge of refugees called “the National Commission for Refugees” and the country also enjoys the cooperation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These two agencies operating in the country owe the responsibility to ensure that refugees are not a political deal and guide the state on how best to handle the situation. Surprisingly we continue to observe silence on this specific challenge posed by the presence of the refugees into both countries, DRCongo and Rwanda.
Despite such legal and institutional presence only 526,000 refugees are identified basing on UNHCR statistics, among them 200,000 are living in North Kivu, among them only around 2,500 have a valid refugee documents, and only 150 have access to some form of humanitarian relief aid especially in North Kivu.
Through the years, many refugees in eastern parts of the country have no place of residence that can be called “settlement” and many are often victims of various armed groups. For the Democratic Republic of Congo to argue about refugees and her way forward, the country should have in place a clear data, and arrangements for refugee residents in the country and all the necessary protection measures in order to fulfil her international obligations. Without such clear information about the statistics of refugees and their places of residence, it may be arbitrary to handle the matter and make part of the political argument. Beyond that DRCongo should not have in place a particular refugee response that favors only the few refugees in Rwanda but the country should put in place a broader strategy that focuses on all the about 3 million Congolese refugees over the world that need to come back to their country of origin.
We estimate that the Democratic Republic of Congo may host more than 2million refugees among them over than 75% of the refugee population is based in the former Kivu Region and who remain unattended to, neither by the government not by UNHCR.
We followed with much attention the final Communique of the Press in Luanda, Angola of the three heads of states: President Joao Lorenzo of Angola, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Felix Antoinne Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, about the outcome of the negotiations in order to reduce tensions between DRCongo and Rwanda and also to bring peace in eastern DRCongo. The Communique stated “the Peace Roadmap also stipulates the repatriation of refugees to their country of origin”.
We do strongly welcome the peace progress made in Angola and continue to encourage all the parties to resort for peaceful resolution of conflict and do all it may take to avoid war. We would like to remind that the great lakes region has been at war since 1986 when President Museveni took power in Uganda, and that war was extended to all other countries up to now.
Through the history of wars in various countries in the region mainly in Uganda in 1986, in Rwanda since 1990-1994, in Burundi since 1990 up to now, in DRCongo since 1996 and in South Sudan, we clearly observe the military roles played by refugees in order to help belligerents to capture power. Such reality of history is still remarkable up to now in various rebels groups holding guns in Uganda, Rwanda, and DRCongo among others, where innocent refugees are recruited in order to join armed groups. The current M23 rebel group is largely composed of people who have refugee status in both Uganda and Rwanda, benefiting from the International Relief Aid and committing human rights violations in DRCongo as we can see it in Bunagana, where more than 30,000 Congolese fled their homes and are living in Uganda as refugees and more than 50,000 are Internally Displaced Persons in DRCongo.
Refugees who are supposed to be vulnerable people and who need protection, have been often mobilized by various actors in order to achieve military agenda in different countries. Over the years Uganda and Rwanda have done so, and unfortunately DRCongo is not doing enough in order to change such narrative by putting in place all that it may take in order to ensure that refugees are not armed. The presence of FDLR in DRCongo is a concern and the same time the recruitment of refugees in South Kivu by the Burundian rebel group of “Red Tabara” makes the situation more complicated despite the presence of Congolese security services in camps where refugees live. And as history seems to repeat itself, the Luanda, Angola negotiations also puts refugees in both DRCongo and in Rwanda at the center of the conflict “the roadmap also stipulates the repatriation of refugees in their countries of origin”, as one among the issues we have to deal with, depriving them their natural character of the “victims” in order to place them as perpetrators exposes them to all forms of human rights violations and reduces their chances for protection.
Often time this militarization and politicization of refugees in the region has been done in total violation of the Article 3 of the African Union Convention on Refugees that stipulates “
“1. Every refugee has duties to the country in which he finds himself, which require in particular that he conforms with its laws and regulations as well as with measures taken for the maintenance of public order. He shall also abstain from any subversive activities against any Member State of the OAU.
- Signatory States undertake to prohibit refugees residing in their respective territories from attacking any State Member of the OAU, by any activity likely to cause tension between Member States, and in particular by use of arms, through the press, or by radio”.
Refugees who in nature are supposed to be civil and victims in the conflicts and who are also waiting for that moment to enjoy peace, should not be at the center of political negotiations especially that the repatriation and other durable solutions for refugees are already contained in all legal frameworks we do have in place, and that the repatriation of refugees is entire voluntarily and not a political deal.
We remain concerned that in the Luanda Communique, those referred to as “refugees” may be mostly armed groups hosted in both Rwanda and DRCongo some among them recruited from the refugee population over the years and who are responsible for various human rights. Refugees who are engaged in subversive activities neither against their country of origin nor against their host country, do loose that refugee status, and combatants should not be baptized as refugees in order to attract the attention for protection and divert us from the call for justice in order to end impunity against all the victims.
Peace in the great lakes region depends also on how much we have ensured that refugees are fully protected and their rights observed, and the priority for the Democratic Republic of Congo is to claim back her obligation to ensure that each refugee is protected, and account for the life of each refugee on her territory. As DRCongo strives to become a role-model in the refugee management at the same time it may demand the same from other states who are using refugees as combatants in the region against other states, but also engage the International to ensure that Humanitarian Relief Aid is not channeled to people with guns and to ensure that all involved in violence are removed from the list of refugees.
Efforts should be done towards a process which will spare refugees from military recruitment, and that refugees are not considered anymore as reserve forces by any state, and at the same time refugees in the region should be protected from negative political activities.
At this point, we believe that the Democratic Republic of Congo should put more efforts internally in order to put order in the whole refugee sector and claim back the protection of each refugee on her territory.
In line with the above mentioned we humbly recommend the following:
We call upon the Democratic Republic of Congo to withdraw refugees from the ongoing negotiations with Rwanda, and all dealings with Rwanda should take into account the protection of refugees in DRCongo,
We call upon President Felix Tchisekedi to appoint a special Presidential Advisor on refugee issues in order to guide on how best to handle this technical a critical refugee issue in the region,
We call upon the DRCongo to engage Uganda and Rwanda to withdraw the refugee status from all those who have guns, and to engage the International Community to freeze the Humanitarian Relief Aid against Uganda and Rwanda,
We call upon the Democratic Republic of Congo government to urgently reform the National Commission for Refugees, by putting in place a national refugee policy, adequate and quality human resources and mobilize financial resources in order to carry out various activities,
We call upon the Democratic Republic of Congo Government through the Minister of Foreigner Affaires to lobby and mobilize the International Community to support with necessary resources the protection of refugees,
We call upon the Democratic Republic to ensure the participation of refugees on various issues that affect their lives in DRCongo,
We call upon the DRCongo to remind UNHCR in the region about her roles to watch of the well-being and the protection of refugees and guide all countries on how best to respond to the protection needs of all refugees.
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
In-charge of Refugees and Foreigners
Collective of Youth Organizations for Solidarity “COJESKI-DRC” Coordination of North Kivu
Tel: +243853191163, email: firstname.lastname@example.org