Does UNHCR matter for refugees in DRCongo, one month now since UNHCR closed offices in Goma

The disillusionment of UNHCR Protection to refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1994 up to now: Why should UNHCR fail and repeat the same mistakes over and over again? Can we conclude that repeated mistakes are also a choice and a decision to abandon refugees?

Recently UNHCR made a call for funding in order to support refugees and IDPs, in the justification UNHCR indicated about the donor fatigue which may be one among the reasons for aid cut, on ground that the persons of concern have over the years lived on relief. How does UNHCR in the Democratic Republic of Congo support refugees who are not even known? The 520,000 refugees who UNHCR claim represents only ¼ of the entire refugee population in DRCongo, still it is not yet known how many does UNHCR support among the 520,000? What is certain is that in Goma, UNHCR is in contact with only 2,500 refugees among them only 1/10 have received relief aid from UNHCR.

Key questions: How effective is UNHCR in the lives of refugees and what happens if UNHCR is not there? Who exactly gets UNHCR relief Aid? Who does UNHCR intend to help with this call for funding?

Again, as tensions are high among the local population against the presence of the UN Forces of MONUSCO which is accused of not having not done enough to restore peace, UNHCR also disappeared and left refugees alone in Goma and in other parts in the North Kivu Province. UNHCR has done so over the years since 1996 up to now, running away and coming back when the situation is calm.

With such a strategy, how can UNHCR claim the protection of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which moral authority does UNHCR hold to speak for refugees in DRCongo? How many refugees does UNHCR even know? How many refugees does UNHCR claim the protection in North Kivu? How important is it to have UNHCR in DRCongo? What may happen if UNHCR is not in the country? Are there other better options which should be exploited beyond UNHCR?

All are some of the questions which are being discussed by many actors here in Goma including refugees who come for our various meetings. What is clear in the discussions is that UNHCR does not have impact to the lives of refugees in North Kivu, in contrary UNHCR is a threat to many refugees especially those who are wanted by Rwanda and who have been naïve to be in contact with UNHCR, many have been taken to Rwanda. Strong testimonies from refugees do indicate either direct or indirect participation of some UNHCR officers in the deportation of refugees back to Rwanda. North Kivu Province has around 200,000 refugees who are identified by UNHCR, among them only 2,500 are in contact with UNHCR and only 150 could have access to humanitarian relief. All these indicate that UNHCR is not much needed.

This refugee indicated in our meeting on Friday August 19th, 2022 in Goma “For me UNHCR is a secret spy force for Rwanda, they do all they can to deceive refugees, they will even come with some kind of aid in order to help some refugees, then others will start coming until they get those they want and take them back to Rwanda”.

It is more evident that the fate of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo lies in the hands of the local host communities, and actually things seem to be well when UNHCR is not present, and there are few incidents reported in some places where refugees are living together with the host communities. There can be serious debate about the whole protection of refugees in those various communities, the whole humanitarian aid, and the vulnerability of refugees in order to access opportunities but still answers to these questions may not be to bring in UNHCR but may be to strengthen and empower the communities in order to respond better to the situation of refugees.

Right now in Goma, UNHCR disappeared completely and no one thinks about them anymore, yet life of refugees seems moving on well. As organization we are doing everything possible at various levels: With the Pro-Democracy Groups in Goma we have held various meetings with them to present the situation of refugees which should not be mixed up with the general Rwandan Migrants, and we have noticed that the message has been well understood and as per now, most of them have no problems with refugees, with the Government Authorities we have provided information about refugees who have no documents, those who have expired documents and those who have valid documents and engaged them on the necessity to protect them all, regardless of their documents or not.

The debate has been on how to differentiate refugees from general Rwandan Migrants, but also we have encouraged anyone from Rwanda who knows that he/she was forced to flee Rwanda in order to seek asylum here in DRCongo, to report to the local authorities where he/she is and to inform us also about his/her presence in the country so that we can intervene when there is problem.

So far this is exercise is going on well, and some refugees have reported to their local authorities and indicated that they are refugees, others are still in fear of being discriminated or sent to Rwanda, but also some local authorities we have managed to contact are well-informed about refugees and assured us to handle them well.

We have provided a Phone number which refugees can call in case of a problem or even send an SMS, and we are getting calls for those who need help. As per now the situation of refugees in North Kivu is clam and it is much better than when UNHCR was operating.

We need to explore more the option of going away with UNHCR in DRCongo and strengthen the community approach as an effective approach to refugee protection.


Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos

In-Charge of Refugees and Foreigners

COJESKI-DRC, Coordination of North Kivu