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Analysis of the situation of displaced and asylum seekers in/from South Kivu. Case of Banyamulenge

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

The peoples of south Kivu share certains socio-anthropological and historical traits. Not only they have some similaralies of lifestyles, they have all been colonized by the same country. However, history has separated them in one way or another and unfortunately their memories of conflict since colonization still affecting social cohesion. The peoples of this region can be grouped historically and anthropologically into three social categories. Farmers, big cattle ranchers and hunters. If these three categories do not agree on their memories of the past it is because of recurring conflicts which some groups consider others as sources of misfortune. In the intermediary, however all accuse the regimes of having played the important role in producing this controversial memory. Whenever an event has occurred, the regime in place participates directly or indirectly, on the side or against one group. This debate consists of elaborating historiography of “the most affected group in the region” Banyamulenge based on the testimonies collected among old and new asylum seekers, the latter have been confronted with my own experience and analysis. The events produce controversial memories among the social groups established on different parts of territory. It starts from post colonial period, including the recent years which correspond to the standards of demand for international protection in region throught UNHCR. That is, recent persecution attempts, which are the basis of leaving the country.

Causes and identities: regional overview since 2015

It is not chosen by coincidence, but rather on the basis of events that have caused the thousands of people travereling borders and seeking refuge. In 2015, Burundi has organized the "controversy elections" as well as they preparations and even at the announcement of the results level. This event not only forced certain Burundi citizens leaving his country but also produces the "traumatic memories". It was rather the political problem according to several witnesses. Hundreds of victims have been documented by several independent organizations. Some of the “victims were killed by the regime in place while others by “militia affiliated to opposition parties” according to international organizations. A very limited number have asked for asylum in Western countries, while hundreds of thousands are crossing land boundaries to head in neighboring countries, among others, Rwanda, Tanzania, RD Congo and Uganda.

In 2017, in Rwanda also had the presidential election, as usual the regime in place has neutralized the opposition since the taking of power by the RPF and that with each election nothing special like neighboring countries. It does not mean that peace reigns for everyone the situation is alarming according the human rights watch. All people who dare to criticize the regime they are “imprisoned or killed”. A much reduced number manages to flee, human rights organizations have profoundly documented more cases. The case of Rwanda is particular because all the victims accuse the regime to have directly or indirectly sponsored the human rights violation, testified. Unlike other countries in the region, there is no more specific event in Rwanda that requires their citizens to flee since 2017, nevertheless UNHCR has already counted thousands of asylum seekers in the region and in western countries.

In DR Congo, the security situation has continued to deteriorate since 1996 as a result of recurring conflicts. I wanted to limit this discussion between the 2018 election periods until today. “More than a million people have been moved because of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in the last six months, Tuesday said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)”[1]. Before the elections are held there were several emitting and the police fiercely repressed the protesters. This year (2018) also coincides with the increase of killings in the highlands of Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga to South Kivu, Ituri and Beni. These political, ethnic and economic conflicts caused hundreds of thousands of internal displaced persons and asylum seekers in the region. These new forcibly movements still increasing of internal displaced, which are short of essential services, according to UNHCR, which received only 21% of the $ 168 million needed for its DRC operation[2].

In South Kivu, the majority goes to Burundi and Tanzania while those in Northern Kivu head for Uganda, Rwanda and sometimes in Kenya. Apart geographical choice of hosting countries, from the southern Kivu, the choice also depends on ethnological context. The Banyamulenge of South Kivu are heading in Burundi, Uganda little in Rwanda in recent years. The reluctance in relation to Rwanda is due to the killings on February 22, 2018 by the Rwandan security services, where the victims were the Tutsi of the South and North Kivu. Seeking refuge in Tanzania for them has become problematic since 2017 when a family Banyamulenge of 8 persons were burned in the house at Nyarugusu camp. Five among them including parents and three children died and three other(children) survived. As per my sources, Rwampfizi had arrived in Tanzania 3 months before the incident took place. He is among the 35 Banyamulenge families who have sought refuge in Tanzania this year due to the widening of confrontation in the Uvira-Fizi counties. While the Babambe, Bafuliro, Banyindu, Bavila, Baurega, Babangubangu ... of south Kivu are heading exclusively in Tanzania and Burundi. It is this reason in Burundi for example all the tribes could seeking refuge but often distributed in different camps to avoid the possible conflicts.

Banyamulenge refugees from the origins to the present day

The case of Banyamulenge is not isolated, it has been and continues to be seen as part of the general phenomenon observed in Africa after independence where several African countries experienced internal and regional conflicts. Like so many other populations in the region, the Banyamulenge was among the victims of political, ethnic and economic conflicts. During the Simba rebellion of the 1960s, members of the Banyamulenge community left their villages, territories, and settled in other unusual places, of which they were the first internally displaced. Some settled in Baraka, Fizi territory and many others in the Ruzizi plain, environments have negatively affected the lives of these herders. Thousands of people have lost their lives due to malaria and lack of food. Almost all of their cattle died from the unusual weather just a few months away. Witnesses recounted the situation in these terms "if the situation remained the same we would not even have the person to tell the story." After the recovery of certain localities by the Banyamulenge warriors, these internally displaced persons quickly returned to their villages or the secure villages.

The second wave of forced migration, therefore the refugees, began in 1996 when the AFDL rebels launched the attacks on Zairian soil. These events were the beginning of ordeal for the Banyamulenge, that is to say the hunting of the man contrary to what they thought. The first group of refugees from these elements were members of the Banyamulenge community who resided in Bibogobogo, Abela (Ikabera) and Nganja in Fizi territory, in Uvira, Bwegera in Uvira territory. These survivors, mostly women, are sent to Gitarama in Rwanda and many others to Kibuye, in Rawanda. Among the victims including the prophetess Mariyamu Kinyamarura who succumbed when arriving at Gitara a few days after. Another group went to Burundi. Some families from several Banyamulenge villages deciding to take refuge in Uganda.

The third forced migration wave took place in 1998 and was marked by the total destruction of Vyura, Shaba province, the Banyamulenge found refuge in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya and some became internally displaced in South Kivu. It is the forced migration that some observers call the "deportation" planned by Rwanda. Some have settled in the camps of Bwagiriza, Mwaro in Burundu, others in Kiziba in Rwanda, in Nakivale in Uganda. Another group that was imprisoned in different prisons in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and others have relocated to America and Rwanda by UNHCR.

Since 1998, during and after the RCD rebellion, hundreds of thousands of people from the Banyamulenge community left their villages and took refuge in the countries of the great African lakes. In 2004 another migratory wave was observed following the war between Col Jules Mutebutsi and Gen Mbuza Mabe in Bukavu hence the massacre of Banyamulenge in Gatumba on August 13rd, 2004 by the FNL rebels, Mai-Mai. Once again the survivors headed to neighboring countries.

The recent continuous forced migration movement is one of the consequences of the conflicts and wars that have erupted since 2017. Several Banyamulenge villages have been burnt down and their wealth uprooted and several thousand people have been killed by the Mai-Mai coalition and the Burundian rebels of RED -TABARA, FOREBU, and FNL. It is a political conflict that some researchers have called an ethnic cleansing plan, the most systematically bruised conflict and which has caused unprecedented internally displaced persons. This was the first time that IDP camps have been created by UNHCR in the highlands of Fizi, Mwenga, and Uvira. The main camp for displaced people, the majority of whose residents are members of the Banyamulenge community, is located in Mikenge, Mwenga territory after the destruction of Mibunda villages. Recently in April 2021, the villages of Kahororo and Rurambo, long spared due to efforts, the populations alike had invested for peace. Unfortunately these villages were burnt, destroyed the inhabitants forcibly moved to Bwegera, Uvira, Bukavu and Goma. It is estimated that ten thousand internally displaced Banyamulenge and one hundred thousand Banyamulenge refugees in the various countries of the region. As a reminder, hundreds of thousands have been resettled in Western countries.

Food security crises and medical care limited

Everywhere in refugee camps in the countries of the Great Lakes and at internally displaced region. The victims of sexual rapes increase but the financial means remain limited to treat the victms, consequently the victims live not only from the trauma but also with incurable diseases. Some commit suicide others disappear as a way to escape difficult life. Their familiar and especially children are the victims. In June 2021 several villages in the highlands, Uvira territory were attacked by armed groups Residents took refuge in Bwegera, Ruzizi plain. These displaced people live an alarming situation as they have been ignored by humanitarian agencies. Not only do they do not find anything to eat they attacked malaria. In the brush, several families Fuleo and Nyindu live the same situation. They deserve human treatment. In the east of Congo, except major cities, the remains areas are emptied of the inhabitants to group together in IDP camps.

Donors overflowed by increasing of internal displaced

For those who recently visiting the HCR website English version you found a message on the homepage thus stipulating “fresh waves of unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have displaced an estimated 5 million people between 2017 and 2019 – namely in the Kasai, Tanganyika, Ituri and Kivu regions. Hundreds of thousands more have fled to Angola, Zambia and other neighboring countries”[3]. People are fleeing their homes at a worrying pace, as worsening violence destroys lives and livelihoods across the country. The absence of repatriation policies and consequences. The same website displays this "over 918,000 DRC Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Being Hosted in African Countries (As of 29 February 2020). 5.1 Million People Displaced Inside DRC (Between Oct 2017 and Sept. 2019)"[4].

These messages and many others who often spend social media testify how much the situation is gradually worsening. Unfortunately UNHCR receives much reduced funding from the needs like this organization says "«despite the enormous needs, UNHCR has only received 67% of the US$156 million required in 2019 to provide life-saving assistance and protection to refugees, IDPs and other vulnerable people in the DRC. More support is urgently needed. Please help now"[5]. UNHCR as a UN organized organ in partnership with some Western countries make every means possible to minimize the consequences that these human groups abandoned by its country. The questions remain to know if the world is aware of this calvary on which through these displaced and refugees in the same way as the problem related to climate change? The main donor countries grouped into the European Union had to take this problem seriously, which may impact the entire world. It is time for DR Congo to end this problem by attacking the causes of recurring conflicts in these parts of the country.

Prosper B. Baseka

PhD Student, Anthropology, Bircham International University

“The construction of sensitive memory in DR Congo”

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