Report on the Press Conference in Goma: UNHCR wants to exclude DRC for political reasons to please Rwanda
Report of the Press Conference on the effective exclusion of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, in December 2023.
On Monday October 24th, 2023 we organized a press Conference in Goma to denounce the exclusion of DRC in the Global Refugee Forum summit.
The event that took place in our meeting room started at 10:40 am and ended at 12pm. A total of 25 Journalists from different media covered the event out of 20 journalists who were planned for and who were invited, also 5 refugee representatives and 5 leaders from different Civil Society Organizations attended.
This media engagement was chaired by Germain Mirhonyi from the New Dynamic of the Civil Society in DRC who is one among our partners in this advocacy. In his opening remarks he explained our concerns in the way UNHCR, the motives and what we believe in we should achieve for the whole campaign. He also briefed on the audience on the politics around the UNHCR motive to exclude refugees, the host communities, the Civil Society, the private sector and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He regreted how UNHCR in DRCongo has been so much politicized and has joined the click in the abuses against refugees.
Then Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos shared with the audience on the situation of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo which he described as a disaster especially since 1994 up to now, Pecos noted three things as following:
The Institution in-charge of refugees known as CNR: This structure was put in place in 1998 by RDC Goma rebel group backed by Rwanda, and most of the staffs in this structure are people appointed on recommendation from Rwanda. CNR aimed and it is up to now aiming at legitimizing and legalizing the deportation of refugees back to Rwanda and to cover up various refugee rights violations. CNR does not focus on the protection of refugees rather to discourage all refugee efforts to seek protection in DRC, in order to satisfy the Government of Rwanda which argues that all Rwandan refugees outside Rwanda are economic migrants. In 2002 CNR up to now CNR became the official government body in-charge of refugees but maintained the same policy and the same actors who are perceived as pro-Rwanda.
The DRC Refugee Law: The current DRC refugee policy which is actually a Presidential Decree does not favor also the protection of refugees and contradicts other international legal frameworks. This law was created through the lobbying from UNHCR and was influenced by Rwanda and this makes it not in position to ensure the effective protection of refugees, this law serve one thing to legalize the violation of refugee rights.
UNHCR as the United Nations body is also characterized by so many challenges, some of her staffs are perceived as Rwandans, others stay in Rwanda, and others are viewed as highly connected to Rwandan security services. On top of that UNHCR has fully participated in various refugee rights violations and there are allegations all over that UNHCR worked in collaboration with Rwanda to abuse refugees especially Hutus who came from Rwanda in 1994. UNHCR here in North Kivu does not have a clear policy towards the protection of refugees especially Rwandan Hutus refugees instead UNHCR has continuously exposed them to forced repatriation, played roles in the deportations of vocal refugee community leaders and in some cases has remained silence towards the violation of refugee rights. In short UNHCR in North Kivu and in the whole DRC is not part of the solutions in favor of the refugee protection but as a problem that hinder efforts towards the protection of refugees.
The event noted the positive progress on the side of physical security of refugees in North Kivu because the DRC government is making reforms among them to change Rwandan Security Officers in various government institutions such as DGM, ANR, T2, Sokola 2, among others. So as per now Rwandan refugees in North Kivu do feel secure and have started restoring hope and trust the current government.
The presentations ended by testimonies and recommendations from refugees who were present.
The first one talked about the lack of humanitarian assistance as the main problem, this is because he is recognized refugee currently, and he also observed that officers in UNHCR and CNR are close to Rwanda reason why they do not feel safe to visit these offices. The second refugee was also a man who observed that the issue of refugee who do not have documents is one among the big problems they are facing since 1994 up today, this was because he is among thousands who do not have documents, the third refugee was a woman who argued about fear they have towards UNHCR because UNHCR repatriated many among them to Rwanda, herself was a victim of such forced repatriation, the fourth was a refugee young boy who wondered about their status in DRC, he does not know if they are refugees or if they are Congolese and that alone blocks them to access various services and to know which identification document they should use, he also observed that refugees especially Rwandan refugee children and young people do not have opportunities for education, the fifth one who was a woman commented on the need to help them live a normal life, because they have spent about 30 years in DRC running up and down, but also she does not have documents that can help her to move from different places for livelihood activities.
Questions from Journalists
Two major questions were directed towards Germain: Why such campaigns at this time and what you are planning to do if UNHCR remains on her position to exclude DRC.
R/ These questions have appeared so much in our various media engagement and our view it that with the ongoing reforms in various security services in DRC it is now easier to engage on refugee issues but also the presence of actors who are interested in refugee protection among Civil Society Organizations in DRC. The second on what to do next, there are various actions that are being planned in which we shall also involve the media and actors of the civil society, actually this is the third activity on this issue of refugee in DRC and the exclusion of DRC to effectively participate in the summit.
Three questions were also directed to refugees: Why do you fear to return back to your country Rwanda? Until when you will remain refugees? And why only you yet there are others who returned and are living in Rwanda?
R from refugees/ First of all we fled Rwanda because we are Hutus and now Tutsi took over power, as you know they killed us in millions but the genocide against Hutus is not even recognized all the time is more of the genocide against Tutsi that is commemorated in Rwanda, so the Tutsi regime is still there in Rwanda and wants to finish us all, secondly Rwanda is an open prison, those Hutus living in Rwanda are in prison, you should be aware about various human rights violations in Rwanda, and lastly Rwanda has come to kill us here in DRC since 1996 up today, so what may happen when we go back to Rwanda, we are here as refugees but Rwanda claims that we are all Interahamwe who participated in the genocide, just look at me in 1994 I was just 6 years old do you mean that I also killed Tutsi? Rwanda claims that we are also FDLR just look at me here, have you seen me with a gun, do I look like a soldier, I’m just mere civilian and there are so many Hutus refugees who are like me. So what may happen if we go back to Rwanda? So for us the problem is first of all the current regime in Rwanda that needs to change. We shall remain refugees here in DRC until there are changes in Rwanda and we do ask the DRC Government to protect us against attacks from Rwanda. There is no clear information that those Hutus who were forced to repatriate are living very well in Rwanda, and if you have such information please share it with us, what we know is that those who were repatriated by force back to Rwanda they stayed there for a while and found a ways out, most of them are in Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi among other countries.
Questions to Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
Why is this advocacy and campaign important, what does DRC gain in all this? How many refugees are in North Kivu? And when will they put to the end on this?
R/ Remember that in 1996 some people here took guns and launched a war claiming that they are refugees and wanted the Congolese Citizenship, that should not have happened because we already have durable solutions to refugees, but also remember that since 1998 up to now Rwanda has argued that all these refugees are Interahamwe who committed Genocide and therefore they should also be killed, and others now are in FDLR armed against Rwanda regime and therefore Rwanda has to defend itself against this group by sending soldiers in DRC. Unless we cut off those excuses from Rwanda we may not have peace in eastern DRC. We need to know how Hutus refugees are believed to among FDLR and who are supposed to be Interahamwe according to Rwanda, so we all need this information that is the reason why we must ensure that refugees are well protected so that they are no longer being used as political tools by Rwanda. We all know that more than 90% of the current Hutu refugee population in DRC were either born in DRC or came when they were still young below 10 years, so these did not participate in the genocide, we also know that more than 90% of the Hutu refugee population are mere civilians looking for protection and they are not associated to armed groups, so this has come out very clearly and be known to the world, we also know that FDLR armed group is more fighting in order to survive the attacks from Rwanda and to offer protection to their family members but it is not armed against Rwanda.
Questions do remain and the United Nations owes us clear answers, who decided that armed Rwandan groups were allowed to enter DRC by then Zaire with their guns in 1994? Who decided that Rwandan refugees are put just at a very short distance from the border with Rwanda? Who decided that Rwandan refugees should not be granted a refugee status as they entered Congo in 1994? Who decided that relief aid should be cut to Rwandan refugees since 1996 up to now? Who decided that the only intervention UNHCR can offer to Rwandan refugees is the forced repatriation? There many questions that need answers and someone somewhere should account for these issues. We are much aware that most of the UNHCR efforts are to ensure that such discussions do not exist but until when? And what happens to all these people here?
The refugee status is temporal so it is not eternal but it ends once the circumstances which forced a person to flee cease to exist, for the case of Rwandan refugees they still have fear and that is genuine, so they should enjoy the refugee status in DRC. We are wondering why the DRC Minister of Internal Affairs has not reshuffled the whole CNR staffs and also put in place a new refugee approach then engage UNHCR to follow our policy, after all this country is ours and we are the ones to define what we want to do for refugees, this country does not belong to foreigners in UNHCR.
Generally DRC also loses a lot as refugees are not only a burden but they come along with various skills and economic opportunities for private sectors, they also pay taxes to the government, and in most cases hosting refugees is a common venture between the host country and the international community, we have hosted refugees since 1994 up to now but the International Community has not yet supported us in terms of building roads, schools, health centers, economic activities, and all integration services among others, so the United Nations owes something, can you imagine not even a recognition for what we have done. On top of that Rwanda has attacked over the years claiming that we hosted refugees and the United Nations has remained silent,
We have more other activities which we intend to do in order to ensure that refugee issues in DRC are known even if UNHCR does not want this country to be represented. And if that is done then we shall bring a debate to the public about the evaluation of UNHCR presence in DRC in order to see if it is strategic for us to keep UNHCR here or not.
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos