Rwanda, DR Congo seek a fresh start on refugee crisis

Tuesday May 23 2023

Refugees in the Mahama Camp in Eastern Rwanda. PHOTO | FILE


Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have resumed talks to manage refugees on their soils in what appears to be a continual shared problem in spite of recent tensions.

The two countries agreed to reactivate agreements for the management of refugees on their respective sides on May 15 in Geneva. In the past, such moves failed to garner cooperation over allegations that the countries were interfering with each other’s internal affairs.

Despite the tension between the two countries, Kigali and Kinshasa will continue to grant asylum to Rwandan and Congolese citizens seeking international protection.

At the height of the fighting in Kivu between the M23 and the Congolese army in January, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said his country would no longer host Congolese refugees on its soil.

Read: Refugees caught in Rwanda-DR Congo dispute

About 80,000 Congolese citizens live in Rwanda as refugees, according to DR Congo.


“There is a type of refugee that I think we will no longer accept. We cannot continue to receive refugees, for which we are later held responsible in some way, or even insulted,” he said.

A joint communiqué signed by Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula, Rwandan Minister in charge of Emergency Management Kayisire Marie Solange and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said they had launched a “constructive dialogue".

The communiqué said a “technical meeting” will be held in Nairobi “within a month to define the practical modalities of the reactivation of all the commitments and structures contained in the tripartite agreements of 2010.”

Past escalation

The tone from the communique was promising. But the verbal escalation between Rwanda and the DRC is often based on military and political tension, which sometimes affects humanitarian issues.

The Rwandan president has in the past called on the DRC to allow back its citizens who had fled to Rwanda.

But the Congolese government retorted that “Congo does not refuse to receive its children,” but demanded adequate vetting.
“The Congolese authorities fear that there are spies in the pay of the enemy among the refugees,” Prof Dady Saleh, a lecturer at Goma University, told The EastAfrican.

Read: Rwanda, DRC refugees repatriation talks return in Nairobi

One problem has been that the refugees are culturally related and speak a common language. In the DRC, Rwandan refugees are mixed with Congolese citizens rather than being encamped. Congolese authorities, and some politicians, have always feared they may claim Congolese nationality.

In 2010, Kigali and Kinshasa agreed on ways to repatriate refugees but these agreements face hurdles, including suspicion that those returning home would work as foreign spies for the country that hosted them.

In 2013, in Pretoria, the Congolese government refused to sign agreements on the same issue in spite of various renewed discussions in Geneva.