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Putting to end the collective criminalization of Rwandan Refugees in DRC by President Paul Kagame and the United Nations that has existed since 1994 up to now
This is a briefing about our work towards the protection of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo; this work is based on refugees we do interact with on a daily basis. This briefing seeks to present to you what we have observed in the field and what we are told about these refugees. Like us, we believe that in one way or the other you have also listened to various media statements from Rwanda, and the Diplomatic efforts deployed by Rwanda to collective push us to believe that each single Rwandan refugee in DRCongo is part of Armed groups against Rwanda or participated in the genocide in Rwanda.
Now let us look at things differently from what we are observing in the field where we have vulnerable Rwandan Refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As a reminder in 1994 an estimated 8 million Rwandans mainly Hutus fled Rwanda towards DRCONGO by then Zaire, just after the Genocide, thousands are still in DRCongo up to now without a refugee status.
What really happened to them in DRCongo? Why were they not granted refugee status in DRCongo and benefit from the International Protection?
According to the United Nations, and other humanitarian relief aid Agencies, these refugees were mixed up with Armed Groups who dictated what should be done and how they would support these armed groups against Rwanda. How many were fighters and how many were civilians? How many contributed aid to armed groups? And how many were just mere innocent or forced to contribute? How did we mixt all of them in one basket? Who took that decision?
The United Nations then ordered that no refugee status should be granted to them until they are separated from armed groups, but such a decision has never been implemented up to now. But who could have done that? And why has that not been done up to now?
For Rwanda President Paul Kagame, all Hutus Refugees in DRCongo are genocidaires and should all be accounted for, but also they are part of FDLR fighters. This means even little children, poor women; elderly and other vulnerable people, all participated in the genocide, and are holding guns according to Paul Kagame. However, why did the whole world believe in this Gospel of criminalizing everyone? How did we get there?
In the process Paul Kagame created a purgatory in Rwanda called Gachacha in order to cleanse all with minor sins, and send to hell all with terrible sins. That led to the forced repatriation of more than 700,000 to 1 million Rwandan refugees from DRCongo back to Rwanda by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since 1996 as it is being estimated.
How did we all agree that all Rwandans, especially Hutus Refugees were sinners? How did we reach this conclusion? In order to get them, Kagame deployed the Army in Eastern to destroy all refugee camps, and deport back all Rwandan Refugees in order to face the purgatory, and the rest should be massacred. Can we know now how many were massacred and why? How many were deported back to Rwanda and where are they now?
Unfortunately this continued up to now. But the question still remains. How does it continue up to now? Why do we all remain silent?
Facts and myths about Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo
We have already said about the well-constructed myth about Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo that described all of them as enemies of Rwanda. This myth led to the current criminalization of every Rwandan refugee in DRCongo, since 1994 up to now.
The fact is that in 1994 the Rwandan Army of former President Habyarimana and his Militia Group of Interahamwe moved together with millions of Civilians towards DRCongo, where they all lived together in camps with their guns. The fact is that those two armed Rwandan Groups committed serious crimes against Rwandan Refugees, and against the host Congolese citizens. The fact is that they still hold their guns up to now, and continue to commit atrocities against Rwanda Refugees and the Congolese. Most of former Rwandan Army soldiers and the Interahamwe Militia group, died in DRCongo and only very few are still alive, this led to the transformation of the fighters into the current FDLR. However we should be careful when talking about FDLR because currently some FDLR Armed Groups are believed to be working with Rwanda. But there is a consensus that FDLR is mainly composed of Rwandan refugees whose first agenda is their protection and security in the country where there is no state authority.
The fact is that we have millions of Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo who are merely civilians and who have never been associated to armed groups and who did not participate in the genocide. The question remains, why are these innocent people not protected by the Congolese Government and the United Nations?
Why are we all pushed by Rwanda to believe that all Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo are part of FDLR?
Now let us change the narrative and bring to you something different
We are working on issues of Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo, and our focus is on the Civilians only.
The biggest number of people we are getting at our offices and other community activities in Goma DRCONGO, have an age limit between 15 – 38 years old who represent more than 80% and then from 55 – 67 years Old who represent more than 15%. From that age, we can observe that during the genocide they were either children or not yet born. A big number of young people cannot really tell who their both parents are, because many are a result of rape, and others lost their parents. The others who are currently 55 up to 67 were already adults during the genocide, but we observed that they are mostly poor villagers and generally women. If Rwanda has questions about these people, yes that debate can be opened, how can Rwanda continue to argue that these participated in the genocide?
In terms of sex: More than 75% of Rwandan Refugees who benefit from our activities are Female. So what happened to the Male? This is another serious debate we should also engage on. Why are these female refugees not protected? Can these females also be considered as FDLR?
Where do they live in DRCongo?
Most of them are living alongside the Congolese host Communities but they are not in the Bush together with the fighters, as it has been advanced by Rwanda. Many among them are involved in small income generating activities in order to survive, they live just as civilians. When there is a war by Rwanda or other armed groups supported by Rwanda these refugees also run away together with Congolese in different directions where they become part of Internally Displaced Persons.
The question remains, why are they not offered protection?
In 2021 as we started the venture to understand this situation, we were warned by UNHCR Officers in Goma DRCONGO and by the Officers from the Congolese National Commission for Refugees CNR, not to work on that sensitive issue and highly political issue. But again questions came in our minds, why is it sensitive? And sensitive to who? Why should Civilians be considered in that way? And how a highly Political issue becomes a problem? And it is a problem to who? Is a Political issue a problem? These questions have not yet gotten answers from those who advance them up to now.
Both UNHCR and CNR narratives about Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo seem to be highly close to the collective criminalization policy driven by Paul Kagame, calling all of them currently " FDLR or connected to FDLR in one way or the other or it is dangerous to address refugee issues currently in DRCongo, or claiming that the best approach is to leave the situation the way it is currently.
But how genuine is this perception? What makes UNHCR and CNR think and position themselves in this way? Which evidence do they have exactly? And what could happen if they distance themselves from Rwanda?
The Infiltration of Rwanda in UNHCR and CNR in DRCongo
Composition of UNHCR Staffs in DRCongo
Based on testimonies we continue receiving, UNHCR Staffs in DRCongo are in three categories.
1. International Staff: They are generally Whites from Countries which have good relationships with Rwanda; those working in the Eastern DRCONGO are believed to be residing in Rwanda, especially those working from Eastern part of DRCongo.
2. Rwandans working with UNHCR in DRCongo: These are Rwandan Nationals deployed by Rwanda to work with UNHCR on refugee issues, they are mainly Tutsi who have to decide about the fate of Hutus believed to be enemies of Rwanda, and it is also believed that these Rwandan UNHCR Staffs are mostly Rwandan Spies.
3. Congolese UNHCR local staff: These are Congolese but they either live in Rwanda or are married to a Rwandan mainly Tutsi especially those in the Eastern DRCONGO, and that Rwandan should be connected to security services.
The staff of CNR
Since the Congolese National Commission for Refugees CNR was established in 2002 the whole move was to facilitate Rwanda to softly deal with these refugees considered as enemies, and there was no idea to promote the protection of Refugees.
Based on various testimonies most of the CNR staff are either connected to Rwanda or just Rwandans mainly Tutsis, or those who have been members of various rebel groups supported by Rwanda in DRCongo. This may be one among the reasons why we lost the battle towards the protection of Refugees in DRCongo, but it may not be the only one.
Is President Paul Kagame wrong in his understanding about these Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo?
President Paul Kagame believes that Rwanda is safe for all Rwandans, but most of these refugees do not agree with him, that is one among the reasons Kagame considers them as enemies.
On ground Paul Kagame has the following strategies to get all possible information:
1. Through UNHCR and CNR Staffs as we said earlier,
2. Forced repatriation back to Rwanda where many are forced to accept that they were in FDLR,
3. Deployment of Rwanda Intelligence Services in DRCongo in order to target certain people especially men, intellectuals and those who are economically stable,
4. Pick Refugees in DRCongo and take them Rwanda where they trained as soldiers and then deploy them back to Congo in various Pro-Rwanda Militia groups,
5. Put them in bad conditions in Rwanda so that they can come back to DRCongo and then claim that they are rebels working with FDLR. On ground here in North Kivu, there is a Radio Programme from Okapi the MONUSCO Radio which is used as a propaganda to push people to go to Rwanda, some people are deployed on ground to convince refugees with money, and then pro-Rwanda Armed Groups which are also used.
In short the Protection of Rwandan Refugees in DRCongo is possible, let us now differentiate the Civilians from the Militia Groups and contre-balance the arguments from President Paul Kagame and his allies in UNHCR.
If you have a strong argument why these Rwandan Refugees should not be protected, let us engage, come forward for a Dialogue, currently a strong debate is highly needed.
We believe in the protection of Rwandan and all other Refugees in DRCongo.
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos,
Refugee Programme Officer/ COJESKI RDC Coordination of North Kivu DRCONGO