Cablegate: Rumors and Realities of Rwandan Returnees in North Kivu

Published: Wed 2 Dec 2009 02:00 PM
DE RUEHKI #1052/01 3361400
R 021400Z DEC 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Rumors and Realities of Rwandan Returnees in North Kivu
REF: Kinshasa 573
1. (SBU) Summary: Statistics from UNHCR, MONUC, the Congolese
National Commission for Refugees (CNR), and independent field
investigations indicate that significant numbers of ethnic Tutsis
are entering North Kivu from Rwanda. UNHCR's estimate of 12,000,
while plausible, is probably inflated. Those crossing the border
say they are Congolese refugees returning to lands they fled during
the violence of the 1990s, but very few possess official refugee
identification. Reports from IDP camps and other sources on the
ground suggest returnees are young adults under 30 years old with
little recent connection to the Kivus, but family groups have also
settled in Congolese IDP camps. The movement appears to be
encouraged by ex-CNDP elements on the Congolese side of the
frontier, who have long called for the return of Congolese Tutsi
refugees in Rwanda and Burundi. Congolese authorities in the
General Directorate of Migration (DGM) and the National Intelligence
Agency (ANR) appear willing to look the other way. A major
political battle -- and perhaps more violence -- looms as the local
populations and their political leaders fear a Tutsi land grab. On
the other hand, Congolese Tutsis and their political leaders assert
they are moving back onto land which is legally their own. In the
end, it may be difficult to accurately differentiate between
returning Congolese refugees, returning IDPs, and economic migrants.
End summary.
Rumors and Reports Making the Rounds
2. (SBU) Since July-August, persistent and frequent stories have
circulated in North Kivu that significant numbers of people have
crossed from Rwanda clandestinely at night in an organized fashion.
They are often described as Congolese Tutsis who fled or migrated to
Rwanda in the 1990s, but some insist they are "Rwandans." (Note:
Many Congolese do not make a distinction between Rwandans or
Banyarwanda, especially Tutsis, who have lived in Congo for years.
End note.)
3. (SBU) UNHCR hesitates to call these migrants refugees for
several reasons: they are not returning via UNHCR facilitation;
they lack refugee identification; and the number of Congolese
refugees in Rwandan camps has remained steady at about 53,000. In
October, UNHCR worked closely with the Congolese National Commission
for Refugees (CNR) to assess the situation. They found that 11,902
people clandestinely crossed from Rwanda between January 1 and
October 21. MONUC military sources concur with that figure. CNR
derived this number by asking local authorities in Masisi (the
supposed final destination for the returnees) to report on refugee
arrivals. The CNR data is ambiguous as to whether new arrivals are
refugees or IDPs, noting that some arrivals are from as early as
4. (SBU) Most of those coming from Rwanda are reported to be
crossing the border near Kibumba, 25 kilometers north of Goma. They
reportedly arrive on market days (Mondays and Thursdays) so they can
blend in with the crowds, then depart in busses heading primarily
toward Mushake, Kitchanga and Kirolirwe in Masisi District. Others
apparently walk with their cattle off the roads around the
International Facilitation's Investigation
5. (SBU) Goma-based diplomats have jointly investigated the
rumors and reports to assess the reality. Members of the group,
Qrumors and reports to assess the reality. Members of the group,
including representatives from the U.S., France, the UK, and the
Netherlands, visited Kibumba and the nearby Rwandan border, as well
as Kitchanga in Masisi to meet with refugees, local officials and
locally based UN and NGO staff. They engaged a local Congolese
employee of one of the representatives (a half-Tutsi Kinyarwanda
speaker) who volunteered to go to Kibumba early on market day,
mingle with people coming across the border, catch a bus to
Kitchanga and report his observations.
Population Movement is Real
6. (SBU) Results of these investigations confirmed that there has
been significant cross border movement since mid-year. Ndengo
Viature, president of the overwhelmingly Tutsi Kahe IDP camp in
Kitchanga, reported that the first arrivals from Rwanda came in
July. On November 19, Kahe camp housed 305 families from Rwanda out
of a total of 3,650 families, with one or two new families arriving
every day.
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7. (SBU) Crossborder movements have been visible since June,
according to the dispatcher at the Association of Congolese
Chauffeurs (ACCO) taxi stand in Kibumba next to the main north-south
road. The vast majority of those crossing the border want to go to
Masisi and to accommodate them, he has dispatched more minibus taxis
in that direction.
8. (SBU) By September, the continued flow through Kibumba caused
Congolese authorities in the CNR to take note. In an effort to
assess the situation more systematically, CNR has worked with ACCO
since September 10, compiling a list of Rwandan arrivals using
transport at the ACCO stand. They record names, how many are in
each group, where they claim to be coming from, where they say they
are going to, and their refugee status. According to this registry,
it appears that over 700 individuals coming from Rwanda registered
at the taxi stand between September 10 and November 17. The ACCO
dispatcher responsible for compiling the CNR list indicated that the
border crossings always occur on market days and that 15-50 people
cross on these days. He reported that on one day 101 people
9. (SBU) Crossborder flows at a village between Kibumba and Goma
east of the main north-south road were also reported. Residents of
a local village (that began as an IDP camp in 2003) said that about
20 refugees per day had walked through their village from the
Rwandan border, apparently toward Goma. This assertion could not be
confirmed and seems like a high figure.
Numbers Uncertain
10. (SBU) Although these observations indicate that crossborder
movement has increased significantly, they do not give a sense of
the overall scale of the movement. But they do provide a starting
point. If one extrapolates that the flow through Kibumba occurred
at roughly the same rate in the three months before September 10 as
it did in the two months after, then roughly 1,750 refugees have
crossed there since early June.
11. (SBU) The reports of movement through the south of Kibumba, and
the experience of displaced persons elsewhere, suggest that not all
the crossborder movement goes through the formal registration
point/taxi stand at Kibumba. Conservatively estimating that about
one-quarter of the crossborder movement is not registered at Kibumba
and temporarily discounting the villagers' count of 20 refugees per
day, an additional 450 refugees are present. This brings the total
to about 2,100 since early-mid June at a minimum.
12. (SBU) In Masisi, there is evidence of population movement of a
similar size. In the Kahe camp, there are 305 families registered.
Taking the normal assumption of five persons per household, that
would be approximately 1,525 persons. Serge Derthoms, the UNHCR
representative in Kitchanga, reported that at another IDP camp
several kilometers south of Kitchanga, 130 families (about 650
individuals) had been registered since June bringing the total of
new Rwandan arrivals in the Kitchanga IDP camps to 2,175.
13. (SBU) In addition, there are returnees that cannot be counted.
UNHCR, NGOs, MONUC, and local authorities all indicated that there
are a significant number of people living with families outside the
camps in the Kitchanga area. The population of Kitchanga has
reportedly swelled considerably in recent months from its normal
level of about 70,000. However, much of he influx is due to IDPs
Qlevel of about 70,000. owever, much of the influx is due to IDPs
who have left the formal camps, including around Goma, but have not
found home conditions safe enough to return permanently. Derthoms
estimated that in the Tutsi quarter of Kitchanga adjacent to the
Kahe camp, there are about 300 people living with host families. A
representative from MSF-Holland thought the figure was much higher.
14. (SBU) In addition, UNHCR reports thousands of new arrivals from
Rwanda around the Kirolirwe and Mushake areas, which are both
heavily populated by Tutsis. They are reportedly both in camps and
settled with host families. Others are reported to be heading
toward Walikale. Stories about Tutsis heading toward Masisi off the
roads with herds of cattle cannot be confirmed, but should not be
completely ruled out.
15. (SBU) The consensus within the Goma diplomatic community is
that over two thousand people claiming to be refugees have arrived
in North Kivu from Rwanda since the middle of this year. This
figure almost certainly does not represent the total number of
arrivals, and may only be a fraction of the total. Based on what
was seen in eyewitness reports, the UNHCR/CNR number of 12,000
returnees is certainly plausible, but is most likely a high
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estimate. A more realistic, although still significant number,
would be in the 3,000-6,000 range.
Tutsis Leaving Rwanda
16. (SBU) All sources, including the refugees themselves, indicate
that the vast majority of new arrivals are ethnic Tutsis. Anecdotal
evidence suggests that most of them are young adults traveling in
ones and twos and are not attached to larger families. For
instance, the local Congolese employee who rode the bus from Kibumba
toward Kitchanga reported that of the approximately 40 people from
Rwanda who lined up to get on the bus that morning, only two
families were in the group. One was a couple with one child, while
the other couple had three children. Both families appeared to be
Hutu and all others were young Tutsi adults in the 18-30 age group.
Viature, president of the Kahe camp, however, asserted that the
recent arrivals from Rwanda at his camp comprised a normal mix of
young, old and families with children.
17. (SBU) Those crossing from Rwanda claim to be Congolese Tutsi
refugees who fled to Rwanda in the 1990s. Viature said a "large
majority" had been living in the Rwandan camps, mainly at Kibuye and
Byumba, though a significant number say they were Congolese who had
been living out of the camps amongst the Rwandan population.
Virtually none, however, possess refugee documentation. Of over 700
registered at Kibumba by ACCO/CNR only three possessed papers
identifying themselves as refugees. This is in spite of the fact
that most of the returnees said they were from camps and spelled out
what zone and block they came from.
18. (SBU) Viature explained the lack of refugee ID/ration cards by
saying the refugees had sold them before leaving the camps in
Rwanda. The going rate is 15,000 Rwandan Francs ($27). UNHCR is in
the process of cross-checking the Kahe names with the names of those
registered in the Rwandan camps. The UNHCR rep in Kitchanga
confirmed the cross-checking process, but reported that so far only
about 20 of the 305 Kahe family names had shown up on UNHCR's
Rwandan camp lists.
19. (SBU) People leaving Rwanda tell an almost identical story.
Life in Rwanda is "difficult" and they heard that conditions have
improved in Congo, so they have returned. Those living in the camps
say their rations in Rwanda had been cut, which UNHCR maintains is
not true. Some outside the camps complain that they do not have
enough land to farm or raise cattle and that better established
local Rwandan populations keep them from the best land.
20. (SBU) A returnee we interviewed said it was difficult to make a
living in Rwanda because goods there are too expensive. She said in
1995 she had fled Nyanzale for Rwanda along with her brother. Now,
with a husband and six children, she decided to return because she
had heard that conditions in that area had improved. Her brother,
who she said had come back to Congo more than a year ago, had also
encouraged her. After crossing via Kibumba, she bought a taxi
ticket on credit and went to Kirolirwe via Goma. When she learned
that conditions in Nyanzale remained too dangerous, she decided to
come to the camp in Kitchanga. Her brother lives in Kitchanga town.
When asked what he does for a job, she initially said "nothing" and
then clarified that "he cultivates with the others."
21. (SBU) According to Viature, the refugees have not left the camp
Q21. (SBU) According to Viature, the refugees have not left the camp
to move back to their old homes in the DRC. Indeed, since
September, only eight IDPs out of a total of 3,650 families have
left the camp to go home but none of these were returnees from
Degree of Organization
22. (SBU) Some of the stories imply an almost military-like
precision and organization to the population movements. This may be
an exaggeration, but observations suggest at least some, if not a
significant amount, of coordination and coaching. Evidence of this
includes the following:
-- According to the Congolese employee who rode the
Kibumba-Kitchanga bus, Kinyarwanda-speaking ex-CNDP soldiers were on
hand at Kibumba to identify and protect the new arrivals.
-- He noted that the passengers from Rwanda appeared to be
knowledgeable about prices for tickets and bribes along the way and
about how to procure fake Congolese identification papers while
being otherwise unfamiliar with North Kivu. As they excitedly
approached Goma only one of the other 18 passengers appeared to know
KINSHASA 00001052 004 OF 005
where the town was.
-- All the refugees told almost precisely the same story: they were
Congolese refugees who left for Rwanda in the 1990s; and they left
Rwanda because conditions were difficult there and because they had
heard rumors that things had improved considerably in Masisi.
23. (SBU) Although the most organized part of the operation appears
to be the bus transport between Kibumba and Masisi, upon close
examination this appears to be a case of entrepreneurial drivers and
dispatchers flexibly responding to market demand.
Official Attitudes and Actions
24. (SBU) Congolese officials appear to be making no serious
efforts to stop the refugee flows. Rather, they appear to be trying
to keep track of the movements and, in some cases, to profit from
the movements. At the Kabahunga border post about 3-4 kilometers
east of Kibumba, border officials have a very relaxed attitude
toward the border crossings. They confirmed that crossborder
movement had recently increased beyond the normal market day
movements. Few people actually walk across at the formal border
crossing, as that is limited to vehicle traffic only. Most cross
the open border at whatever point is most convenient and head for
Kibumba, which is a hive of activity on market days.
25. (SBU) Our Congolese contact noted that DGM officials in Kibumba
appeared to facilitate the movement of those crossing the border by
asking their nationality and then verbally confirming that they were
Congolese before the returnee could respond. The ANR officer
inspecting the bus made scant effort to confirm the identification
of those crossing the border. When he did, it turned out to be an
attempt to solicit a bribe. Later, as the bus reached a check point
at Sake, the driver collected money from the passengers so they
could pass without being stopped and questioned, i.e., asked about
their nationality.
26. (SBU) Practically all Congolese Tutsis in North Kivu -- whether
affiliated with CNDP, RCD or politically independent -- support the
return of the Tutsi refugees from Rwanda and Burundi, although they
assert that the current movement is very small and very spontaneous.
They complain that practically all other Congolese refugees were
able to return to Congo before the 2006 elections except for the
Tutsis (Note: The mostly Hutu refugees in Uganda also did not
return, although our interlocutors did not mention this fact. End
27. (SBU) From the North Kivu side of the border, currently there
are no signs that the Rwandan Government is doing anything to "push"
people to the DRC. There is some surprise however, at the
consistent refrain from the returning refugees that they are being
given an economic "push" because life has become more difficult in
Rwanda. UNHCR notes that Kigali is aware of the population
movements, adding that it could do more to control the movements if
it wanted.
28. (SBU) Comment: Rumors of significant population flows from
Rwanda to North Kivu are true, although the precise nmbers and
status of the individuals remain uncertain. UNHCR, which would
normally be expected to engage on issues related to crossborder
population movements, has been reluctant act. An internal UNHCR
document dated November 10 concluded that "until such time as the
identity of these individuals (crossing the border) can be confirmed
Qidentity of these individuals (crossing the border) can be confirmed
with UNHCR Rwanda, the bulk of these persons are not considered to
be spontaneous refugee returnees, and are therefore not within
UNHCR's mandate." The continued movement is increasing calls for
action on the part of UNHCR, but a meeting of the Tripartite refugee
mechanism between the UNHCR, DRC and Rwanda, already postponed once,
was postponed again on November 24. More importantly, this refugee
movement is a political bombshell. Local chiefs in Masisi strongly
oppose it, and have warned of an "invasion" of 40,000 Tutsi
families. Many believe this movement is related to the issue of
land-grabbing by ex-CNDP integrated into FARDC, which this year have
moved into the Bisie mines and violently pushed civilians, primarily
Hutus and Hunde, from areas around Nyabiondo and Lukweti. Fears
that Tutsis will move back to their land has fueled the growth of
Mai Mai groups to defend locals from the outsiders. Some
politicians, including former North Kivu Governor Eugene Serufuli
(reftel), have encouraged Congolese IDPs to return to their home
areas by warning them that if they do not, Rwandan Tutsis will come
to take their land. A major political battle looms over land. If,
as appears likely, refugees continue to return and move into areas
now held by others, North Kivu, especially Masisi, could turn
violent once again. End Comment.
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