Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Loamba Moke, human rights defender in Congo-Brazza: “The situation of Rwandan refugees in Congo is ambiguous”.

The following interview was done by Merveille Kakule Saliboko, a member of the Young Peace Journalists and a peace reporter based in Butembo, North Kivu, in eastern DRC.


Loamba Moke, human rights defender in Congo-Brazza: “The situation of Rwandan refugees in Congo is ambiguous”.

After the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 (800,000 deaths among the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutu), a few thousand Rwandans had taken refuge in the Congo, a small country in Central Africa of about 5 million inhabitants after crossed the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are now scattered in many parts of the country and depend on agropastoral activities or petty trading. On them hangs the threat of statelessness due to the cessation of refugee status since December 31, 2017.

To better understand the situation, Mr. Loamba Moke, President of the Association of Human Rights and the Prison System (ADHUC), a civil society organization from Congo-Brazza, is online from Brazzaville. Interview with Merveille Kakule Saliboko, one of the Young Peace Journalists …

Mr. Loamba Moke, in mid-January, you published a statement in which you say that the Prime Minister of Congo-Brazza, Mr. Clement Mouamba, “just planned the genocide of the 8,460 Rwandan refugees” in the Congo. Today, how could we call these people? Refugees or migrants?

You are right to ask this question which is very delicate. As a human rights defender myself, I find it difficult to put an exact answer, to say what these non-exempt Rwandan refugees are becoming. Have they become migrants, stateless people? This is a very important question. Since the declaration of Prime Minister Clement Mouamba, the applicability of the conventions that Congo and Rwanda have had to sign internally, these conventions violate copiously and correctly the regional and international conventions. So, today, the situation Rwandan refugees in Congo is an ambiguous situation. We do not know which category to put these Rwandan refugees.

So, the Prime Minister’s statement of January 10, 2018 refers to the cessation of refugee status clause. What is the result of this statement?

After the Prime Minister’s statement, there were no effects of applicability. In principle, what we were waiting for was to see what the government should do to ask what the methodology is, what the means are … In fact, in the internal convention signed between the Congo and Rwanda, it is said that refugees who refused to go home, would be sentenced, arrested, extradited. You see that extraditing 8,460 refugees is not easy now to arrest all these people. To this day, the only difficulty that Rwandan refugees face is that they have no more papers, they cannot do any activities and therefore they are ransomed by the police of our country. This is a situation of violation of human rights, the rights of these Rwandan refugees.

Before this clause of cessation of refugee status, before this statement by Prime Minister Clement Mouamba, how did these Rwandan refugees live on Congolese soil?

They have been here in Congo for 20 years. There have been mixed marriages, some are farming, others are trading … They were already fully integrated in Congolese society. But unfortunately, today, they live the opposite of this integration that they had lived for nearly 20 years in Congolese society.

Has the status of these people changed in their daily lives? Are these people afraid to go out and not be arrested by the security services?

Exactly, they are arrested. So far, they only have their refugee cards running until December 31, 2017. And when the police arrest them, looking at who is already out of date, the policemen kidnap them, either arrested in police stations. They are asphyxiated. It’s hard to call this life a secret life. We call on the Congolese government to find a durable solution quickly.

Do you have any idea how many Rwandan refugees would be in Congolese prisons because they were arrested by the police because of the Prime Minister’s statement?

You know, there is no government information on the situation. The police act in their own way. The police are calling these Rwandan refugees and when they are arrested, at some point, if they have some money, they give. Sometimes they choose not to go to the prison and live in hiding. We are preparing a report of the reality on the ground, to describe in detail the situation.

Have there ever been voluntary returns of Rwandan refugees to their country of origin?

There were not many people; it’s at most twenty. We know the number of refugees who are not exempt, the 8,460. Moreover, those who have returned to Rwanda do not exceed twenty. Most of them remained in Congo because for them peace is not yet effective at the level of Rwanda.

In your press release, you ask yourself several questions about the reasons behind Prime Minister Clément Mouamba’s statement. What do you think would have motivated the Congolese prime minister?

The motivation is very simple. If you read our memorandum published in February 2017, in this memorandum, we showed what agreements the Congo had already signed with Rwanda, through their foreign affairs ministries. The Prime Minister is just applying these ten conventions. In one of these documents, it is said that when Rwandan refugees refuse to go home, the Congo has the obligation to arrest them and extradite them. This is well stated in the convention signed under the assistance of UNHCR, the United Nations High Council for Refugees. Has there been a thorough analysis to see how far more than 8,460 people can be extradited to their country? I do not know how they will proceed …

On October 2, 2015, a ministerial meeting on the Global Solutions Strategy for Rwandan Refugees took place in Geneva at UNHCR Headquarters. About voluntary repatriation, the Rwandan Government pledged on that day to “guarantee the safe and dignified return and reintegration of all refugees and take all necessary measures to that end”. Was this commitment not enough to convince refugees to return to Rwanda?

You know it’s a problem of the person. Every person has his rights. We have an obligation to respect the rights of each person. Only these people can tell us the reality. They are Rwandans, they lived in their country. Now that their country is developed, why do not they want to go back? That is what justifies events because in political law there is voluntary return, local integration and resettlement. But in Congo, the part of resettlement was obstructed, and voluntary return and local integration were kept. For us, we first look at the individual. What does the individual think of himself? Is he reassured? It’s not a question of what the rulers do. A good part of refugees does not want to leave because they do not have the security guarantee. We must analyse those people who have lived in Rwanda, who have lived through the war, who have fled their country and who are on Congolese territory. They have rights that UNHCR must respect, as well as Rwanda and Congo. Did they respect the rights of refugees? Now, if they are turned back, expelled, their rights are not respected. You know that the Rwandans who are in Congo have memoranda, which they sent to the head of state explaining their non-return. That’s it but their explanations were not considered.

The same meeting of 2 October 2015 also talks about local integration. The “commitment of the participants to redouble their efforts to facilitate the possibilities of local integration for those who wish to remain in the country of asylum”. What has been done in this way?

Local integration took place in 2006 in Congo. Because the Congo and Rwanda, in their conventions, it is said somewhere that Rwandan refugees in Congo-Brazza must withdraw the passports at the level of the chancery, at the embassy of Rwanda in the Congo. These people still consider themselves refugees. And the 1961 convention says that when a refugee agrees to take a document from his country such as a passport, that person totally loses his refugee status. This is an obstacle for Rwandan refugees. The Rwandan and Congolese governments have put in place this strategy for refugees to withdraw their passports to achieve local integration. But, dear journalist, the Rwandan refugees arrived in Brazzaville without any documents because they were in a situation of war. And when they arrived in Congo, they were granted a collective status. UNHCR has kept them for 20 years under this collective status. UNHCR could, after two years, examine case by case and determine who should be and who should not be refugees. UNHCR waited 20 years to ask these refugees to build files to have individual refugee status. This means that there has been a lack of documents everywhere in the refugee camp in our country.

Another commitment that day was the “need to prevent former refugees from finding themselves without legal status or at risk of becoming stateless and agree to take all possible measures, including the exploration of the acquisition of citizenship, to avoid such a situation “. Are there any progress towards the acquisition of Congolese citizenship for these Rwandan refugees?

We are putting in place a strategy because you know that people have spent 20 years in Congo, they have had children in this country. And these children are at university, in high schools, in colleges. These children live in the same camps with their parents. However, our national law states that at 18 you can have nationality. It is a possibility for us to see these children who cannot go to Rwanda but who can acquire nationality, which could arrange their parents. This is an approach that ADHUC is putting in place today.

What is the status of these children born of mixed marriages? I imagine they are torn between the possibility of staying in Congo with their Congolese parents or returning to Rwanda with Rwandan parents …

In principle, even Rwandan children, born to Rwandan parents on Congolese soil, can apply for Congolese citizenship at 18 years of age. That, there are not so many problems. Now, we call on the Congolese government to tap into wisdom and find a lasting solution. We told the United Nations to find a lasting solution. The durable solution is neither forced repatriation nor extradition. I believe that the Congolese government is seeking a solution and I hope that the durable solution will be found to respond to the lamentations, tears and worries of the refugees. I am tempted to say that a political solution is needed at this time.

When and how did these Rwandan refugees arrive in Congo-Brazzaville, more than 2,000 kilometers from their native Rwanda?

You know that the DRC is border with Congo, and the DRC borders Rwanda. After the Rwandan genocide, many refugees found themselves in the DRC. When the Kigali power pursued them into the DRC’s forests, they crossed this vast country. We recorded unaccompanied children, those who lost their parents on the way but there was African solidarity, Bantu solidarity and we brought them to Brazzaville. See! Even these children are considered as people who must go back to Rwanda. They were chased towards the DRC, from where they were chased again in the forests and they found themselves in Congo crossing the Congo river to meet in the northern departments, in Ikolela and Ikobo. Today, they are still pursued.

According to the AFP (Agence France Presse), before the deadline of December 31, only 104 Rwandan refugees were repatriated voluntarily in their country, eighteen have sought local integration and 802 have benefited from the exemption until in 2020. The remaining 8,460 are without status.

Merveille Kakule Saliboko is a peace reporter based in Butembo, North Kivu, in eastern DRC. In May 2016, he won the Peace Journalism Award in North Kivu, a prize set up by AJVPD Tupashe Amani in collaboration with MONUSCO. His award-winning article, “l’agriculture contre la guerre”, published in Afrique Agriculture in March 2016, speaks of displaced people fleeing the massacres taking place in the city and territory of Beni, North Kivu, and who, in waiting for the return of peace in their home environment, engage in agriculture in the city of Butembo. With Pax Christi International, Merveille’s ambition is to be the bard of peace.

Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: The drama of a young Burundian refugee serving as a teacher in Mulongwe refugee camp

The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 


Interviewee Identity

Name: Ndayishimiye Frédéric Etienne
Age: 25 years old
Sex: M
Marital status: Single, Father of a child
Status: Burundian refugee from Mulongwe Camp



This story is about Ndayishimiye Frédéric, a young Burundian refugee who lives nowadays in the Mulongwe camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to his diploma obtained with difficulty in the country of refuge, he teaches to this day at a secondary school which educates Burundian and Congolese children in the locality of the camp. He is the only Burundian teacher at this school, serving as a link between Congolese and Burundian children who don’t have the same culture. Unfortunately, his profession does not guarantee him the dignity of an educator whose noble mission is to sacrifice himself in service for the children’s education.


Age 25, Ndayishimiye Frédéric is the eldest son of a large family whose survival depended on him because their father died when he was very young. In January 2015, his family received regular night visits by gunmen who had managed to take away all the goats they bred at home.

These undesirable visits had taken a deadly turn during the socio-political unrest linked to the challenge of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime. Armed men, generally suspected to be young people serving the regime, were carrying out assassinations and kidnappings at night, targeting anyone who does not share the political ideology of the ruling party.

To flee and continue his studies in DR Congo before transferring to the Mulongwe refugee camp…

While troubles persisted, “the political and social climate of the area no longer promised a better future because I still needed to continue my studies but there was no way here … that is why I had to look elsewhere,” confides Ndayishimiye Frédéric. In his struggle for intellectual fulfillment and physical security, Frédéric Ndayishimiye saw fit to migrate to DR Congo, leaving behind his young siblings and his mother. Once in the country of asylum, he fortunately found a host family in Sange, South Kivu province, where he had started plowing the residents’ fields and getting paid for the job.

“The fruits of this craft made it easier for me to enroll in the sixth year of secondary school, a final degree, in the general pedagogy section in the Congolese education system,” explains Frédéric, who obtained on that occasion his “State diploma”, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, allowing him to have access to the university.

With the support of a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promoted youth education through repayable loans, he was enrolled at the University in the Faculty of Peace Science, Conflict Management and Social Communication, but, according to him, “It was not easy at all because survival depended only on my own efforts. After the course, I had to manage how to eat, while in the meantime I also had to consider repaying the amount received on loan.” He finished this first year in these conditions.

Finally, Ndayishimiye Frédéric resolved to join his fellow Burundian citizens in the transit center to be transferred to the refugee camp. This is how he was admitted and transferred in November 2017 to the newly built Mulongwe refugee camp due to overcrowding of the Lusenda camp.

Until then, the Mulongwe camp was being set up, and everything was not yet organised. Some refugees did not have shelters yet, and others were waiting for enlistment to receive food. In the meantime, the need for education of the children pressed; the area has only one school institution including secondary school and primary school.

In service of the education of children in the camp and the locality of Mulongwe…

While many refugees cultivated and traded food inside the camp because they were allowed to practice the profession of their skills, Ndayishimiye Frédéric had preferred to serve as a teacher at the Kasaba II Institute, the only school in the area where he had applied.

A few weeks later, he was called back to join the teaching staff and was immediately granted the “English and Civic and Moral Education Courses” cause he had had his diploma in the Congolese educational system. Since January 2018, “I regularly practice the teaching profession at this school where I am the only Burundian in a body made up of about ten teachers,” explains Frédéric, who continues: “Every time I come to class, I have in front of me the Burundian children (refugees) and Congolese and also my colleague teachers with whom we cooperate and work in peace … I have never been personally attacked due to my identity.”

To explain the cohabitation at the school between Burundian refugee pupils and Congolese children, Ndayishimiye Frédéric recognises that not all students have the same mastery of French and Swahili, the two languages ​​used in school. This, in his view, handicaps the integration of refugee children who find it difficult to express themselves in a language other than “Kirundi”, the national language of Burundi. In their way of speaking, “Burundian children communicate with difficulty because of the tone of their mother tongue which makes it difficult for them to make heard the sound “l” which they pronounce “r”,” he explains stating that this way of speaking is really the object of laughter by Congolese children.

As an educator, Frédéric Ndayishimiye, who had first lived in the Congo before entering the camp, never stops calling Congolese children to tolerance because this linguistic interference can not immediately change because of the laughter, especially since it’s related to their mother tongue. At least he as a teacher, moreover, due to his Burundian nationality and his mastery of all the languages ​​used at school, knows how to approach all children and explain to them affectionately what it is to live together.

Difficult to live the honour and dignity expected…

Admittedly, “the status of teacher confers a certain esteem to its wearer, especially in school,” acknowledges Frédéric. However, it is sad to see that it is always difficult to find his account in this profession and live the honour and dignity expected. To explain himself, he confesses that he has not received a salary for four months because humanitarian organisations that are supposed to take charge of refugee children, the majority at the school, seem to be shirking their responsibility. This is what makes the teaching profession difficult. “We manage otherwise to live by other livelihoods … with all the risks of being confused as common mortals and then the respect suffers,” says a disappointed Frédéric Ndayishimiye.

* Photo credit: UN High Commission on Refugees,
Refugee Stories, Young Peace Journalists

Refugee Stories: Firewood, a source of conflict between Burundian refugees and local residents

The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. This story is about the experiences of Nizeyimana Edouard, a Burundian refugee living in DR Congo. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 


Interviewee Identity
Name: Nizeyimana Edouard
Age: 26 years old
Sex: M
Marital status: Married, Father of one child
Status: Burundian refugee from Camp Lusenda



Nizeyimana Edouard is part of the first convoy of Burundian refugees who settled in the Lusenda camp in 2015. The convoy’s settlement in this camp experienced disturbances which were, at first, notably related to their cohabitation of the area with local residents. At its roots, the issues were caused by the local inhabitants’ anger over the destructive effect the refugees’ practice of felling trees immoderately had on the environment and their fields. This problem found a peaceful solution through the mediation of UNHCR, its partners, and the local administrative authorities and through the use of “Ziganya”, small artificial embers stoves called “biomass briquette”, which are used instead of firewood.


The socio-political situation in Burundi was intensely critical in 2015 when the President of the Republic, Pierre Nkurunziza, chose to run for the third term. This decision prompted all the political parties to join with civil society and the people to denounce what was described as a violation of the constitution and the Arusha Agreement. This situation has since escalated into unrelenting protests, targeted assassinations, and night abductions.

This is why Nizeyimana Edouard had to flee to DR Congo: “The young people of the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, commonly called imbonerakuré, did not stand anyone from an opposition party or be neutral for those not interested in politics like me… many of my relatives have been victims.” In April 2015, he embarked with his family on a boat to a transit centre in Luvungi (DR Congo) where they were welcomed by the National Commission for Refugees (CNR) and then transferred to Lusenda Camp.

At first, a less troubled installation in the Lusenda camp

After Nizeyimana Edouard settled in Lusenda camp in 2015 as part of the first convoy of Burundian refugees, he was elected head of one of the villages. “As soon as we arrived,” says Edouard, “the UNHCR had already prepared tents for us and gave us food consisting of small weight, the beans, the corn flour, the rice and the oil, and also a very small quantity of firewood that was sometimes not enough to prepare food for a single day.” Refugees were formally prohibited from selling property received from UNHCR or other humanitarian partners operating in Lusenda camp.

Thus, everyone was trying their best to content themselves with the gifts they received from humanitarian organisations, especially the fact that “the environment was so strange to us that we did not collaborate with the residents for the entire first month of our installation.”

This way of life isolated the refugees from the rest of the community in the surrounding area, which was not without consequences; local residents tended to consider themselves discriminated against in that assistance was only provided to refugees.

Difficult cohabitation between Burundian refugees and Lusenda local residents

The donations the refugees received were not enough. Edouard admits, “Beyond what we received from the UNHCR, we went to surrounding forests to get firewood, some to heat their pots and others to sell, without imagining the danger that this could present.” Edouard explains that it was only afterwards that the residents started lamenting that “before our arrival they had beautiful hills, but they are now being denuded because of the woodcutting by the refugees.”

In 2016, a violent confrontation caused by the cutting of trees by the refugees arose, and a refugee died. Conflict expanded in other ways as well. “The natives had marched against the policy of the UNHCR that they considered discriminatory towards them in that they did not benefit from any humanitarian assistance, yet they need it even if they are not refugees,” adds Edouard with a smile.

Peaceful resolution of disputes

Solving this issue required the intervention of several actors including UNHCR, the local administrative authorities, and the National Refugee Commission (CNR). “We were invited to the common meetings to be aware of peaceful cohabitation,” informs Edouard. Both the local administrative authorities and the heads of the refugee villages in the Lusenda camp took part in these meetings, and they committed themselves, each one as far as they were concerned, to widely spread the message by repeating it to their subordinates.

Strategies were employed to bring the parties involved in the conflict closer together. “Beyond prohibiting us from going to cut the woods in forests, it was organised football games in common, frequenting the same market and the same churches according to one’s religion … and it was created a structure called ‘Local Dynamics for Peace’, in the framework of which we could sit with the residents and exchange about our mutual problems, and we were forced to plant at least one tree each one at home camp,” says Nizeyimana Edouard complacently.

Edouard says that in order to solve the problem at the source, “We recommended that the UNHCR provides us with sufficient firewood to no longer suffer from food preparation difficulties, but it has never happened.”

As an alternative, some humanitarian organisations came to make the refugees aware of improved stoves. “Many refugees have obtained furnaces made of mud surrounded by a round-shaped metal with a hole of air, and using artificial embers called biomass briquette, from the mixture of goat excrement, ash mixed with lubricant and palm crumbs”, explains Edouard.

In the Lusenda camp, this kind of stove is commonly called “Ziganya” and is used to very quickly cook any kind of food. The advent of this kitchen utensil has certainly overtaken the dangerous and environmentally destructive practice of cutting wood. “Although these stoves are now locally made by refugees, not everyone has the financial means to buy them, so some still prefer to buy embers from local residents instead of going in the bush to cut the woods, and others still wait for firewood to be provided by the UNHCR in sufficient quantity”, informs Edouard. Even so, he praises the peace found in these terms: “To this day, beyond that each of us keeps his natural identity, there is no more open conflict really between us and the local residents except that where there are people, there is a possibility of conflict.”

* Photo credit: WFP/Leonora Baumann,