The plight of Burundian Refugee Young Girls out of school in Goma who only survive on sexual activities
Refugee girls in Goma the Democratic Republic of Congo are more vulnerable than Congolese girls who are in the same situations.
Information session with refugees at our offices in Goma, DRC on various issues they face here
North Kivu Province is one among other provinces in Eastern DRC which are affected by wars since 1990 up to now. North Kivu Province has never enjoyed even only one 1 year of peace since 1990 up to now when there is no armed coming up. In 1994 millions of refugees from Rwanda also entered North Kivu and thousands are still in the region up to now living alongside host communities in a very difficult situation. In North Kivu at least 6/10 persons have been victims of forced displacement inside the province. Goma the Capital City of North Kivu Province is actually built by Internally Displaced Persons who came and others are still coming and settled there. On top of that Goma and its surroundings currently hosts more than 5million Internally Displaced Persons who came of the recent since 2021 up to now. This is also the population that has hosted thousands of refugees over the years.
The majority of refugees in North Kivu are mainly Rwandans who came in 1994 who represent at least 85% of the refugee population, then Burundian refugees who represent at least 10% and then other. We estimate that North Kivu may be hosting more than 1,500,000 refugees among them only very few are identified by the Government and UNHCR. The identification is crucial because in such zone of conflicts only the identification helps to ensure that the person is not part of armed groups, in this process some refugees have managed to acquire fraudulently the Congolese Voter’s Card which is the only identification document, others have not yet managed to get it, in Goma it is only around 3,000 who have the Refugee Identification Cards. The refugee identification card is also important because it is the requirement for refugees to access any support from UNHCR and partner organizations, over the years UNHCR has been silent of the situation of those who do not have refugee identification cards.
But again what happens exactly to the few who have been granted refugee document? Among them we have Burundian Refugees who generally have refugee documents in North Kivu in general and in Goma in particular. Burundian refugees have in one way or the other enjoyed the support from UNHCR and partner organizations but still not all, and in the process this aid stopped to exist yet measures were not taken to ensure a smooth transition towards the local integration in the host communities.
While this seems a big problem, there is no clear information about Rwandan refugee girls who have been abandoned and who are not registered by both the Government and UNHCR, this work will only focus on Burundian refugee young girls in Goma, and our work only held an interview with 5 girls.
Recently a partner organization demanded for information from us on the situation Burundi young girls who are out of school in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo. We deployed a team in the field and in the process we came up with this interesting information, which needs our attention and a call for action in order to improve on the living conditions of these girls.
Elysée a young refugee girl from Burundi told us “Yes, there are also Congolese young girls I know who are in the same situations like me, but we are far different. Congolese girls have parents, relatives, community members, people they grew up with, people they went to school with, friends to their parents among others who sometimes do come and support them in one way or the other but we refugee girls do not have all these, it is only us and our God. Sometimes we are discriminated and abused just because we are foreigners, and people know that we are not Congolese, so they say there is nothing we can do to them in their country, they claim that if we want our rights we should go back to our country”.
We all know that sometimes services based on equality may be a source of violation of human rights, and that is why we encourage the promotion of equity. We visited two places in Goma mainly Ndosho and Kyeshero.
Why these two places?
Ndosho is well known as a place for poor people and refugees are easily found in various poor communities, but also Ndosho is populated by Internally Displaced Persons which makes it easier for refugees also to penetrate the area. Surprisingly Kyeshero is one among the places which are considered for middle class people, but also it has places for vulnerable communities including Nyarubande and Kituku market which are the center of poor and vulnerable communities.
What happens to Burundian refugee young girls who are out of school in Goma?
Our major issue was on the situation of Burundian refugee young girls who are out of school.
We observed that the five (5) refugee girls we talked to were once at school through the assistance from AIDES (implementing partner of UNHCR) in Goma. But in at sadden the support was cut off and these girls could not continue with their education anymore. Most of them are living with a single parent generally who is the mother while only one lived her two real parents and one lived with the mother and a foster father. Most of the girls we talked to were between 15 to 23 years old. The choice of the area to live was decided by their parents but it was linked to cheap houses, economic opportunities and sometimes free houses.
Mwamani said “I went to AIDES to ask for money to pay at school, they told me that they do not have funding to pay for me, they told me to ask my parents to pay for me. That day I was shocked, I spent the whole day crying and wondering what my life will look like again. I’m living with my mother alone, my father died during the war in Burundi and my mother is too poor she does not have money to pay for me school fees. In the process I had to understand that life is like that, I stopped crying and now I’m here living in this way. Here at home we have so many problems, each time we keep on shifting because we are not able to continue paying the house rent, there is no way to even focus, no way to build social networks because we found ourselves new in different areas”.
Generally four among the girls are involved in commercial sex in order to survive. Three major problems do affect them: House rent, food and their basic needs as girls.
Nadia said “I’m not a sex worker and I do not even want to engage in commercial sex in order to survive but look here, I have nothing else to do, when a man comes and proposes me some money, I accept because it can help us at home. But even some men here do abuse me because I’m a foreigner, they can sleep with me and will not even pay me, at first I used to cry when I face such experience happening to me, you know when a man calls you then you know you will come with some money and it will solve some few things at home, but in a sudden you come with nothing”.
All the girls we spoke had issues to do with money and in their perception without money life becomes a challenge. Much as they were not aggressive in trying other alternatives, they still have the desire to change, to build a normal life and struggle for a better. They all have big dreams in life which once are boosted they may become a strong human resource in the community.
Josiane also said “Since I drop out of school, I joined the choir at church and sometimes we go somewhere to sing and they pay us some money, in the process each one will be given some money for transport, I’m highly also involved in Music and sometimes I get some money in order to survive, yes I do also get some boys who give some money in exchange for sexual advantages. In our choir people know that I’m a Burundian but they do not know that I hold a refugee status here, issues of discrimination is not so much but there are things they do not involve me because they say I’m a foreigner”.
Two among the refugee young girls we interacted with indicated the desire to return back to school in case they are supported and wish to continue studies up to the University, and the other two wanted to get involved in things that can generate for them money daily such as business and tailoring.
Jolyne said “Since I drop out of school, I’m always here at home, I’m just 15 years old, I help my mother to stay with my siblings as she is looking for something to eat. Sometimes I go and visit my friends who are also refugees like me and even Congolese friends. I always feel bad when I see other girls are coming back from school but me I’m just at home, there is nothing I can do over this, and I keep praying God to help us”.
Conclusion of this field visit
Solutions to refugee problems in Goma and in the whole eastern DRC seem lacking and there is urgent need to address this challenge. Information about the situation of refugees is lacking and we need to work on this, the urgent need to empower refugees in order to address their challenges in crucial, and the need to propose to these young girls other alternatives in order to strive with life is required.
That is why we are coming up with this fundraising campaign.