Cablegate: The Rapid Exodus of Idps From the Camps in Goma, Drc

INFO LOG-00 EEB-00 AF-00 AGRE-00 CA-00 CIAE-00 INL-00
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INR-00 IO-00 MOFM-00 MOF-00 DCP-00 NSAE-00 OIC-00
NIMA-00 EPAU-00 MCC-00 GIWI-00 DOHS-00 IRM-00 TRSE-00
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FA-00 SWCI-00 PESU-00 /001W

R 040948Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: The Rapid Exodus of IDPs from the Camps in Goma, DRC


1. (U) A rapid field study of the sudden exodus of an estimated
65,000 residents of camps for displaced populations in the Goma area
has revealed evidence of excessive use of violence and the violation
of humanitarian principles during the camps closure. The sudden camp
closures also damaged relations among the North Kivu government,
humanitarian organizations, and displaced populations. While some of
the IDPs have returned to secure environments and received
assistance, others from still-insecure areas are staying in transit
sites and with host families. Returnees throughout North Kivu are
struggling to determine how to access humanitarian goods and
services and transition to village life. Among the study
recommendations include applying lessons learned to future camp
closures in North Kivu; orienting assistance based on vulnerability
not status; enhancing and harmonizing protection efforts; supporting
land mediation initiatives, and increasing funding in the
rehabilitation of return areas and associated logistical costs. It
should be noted that returnees from the Goma camps represent only a
very small fraction of the vulnerable populations in North Kivu.
Overemphasis on the Goma camp returnees will distract from the
considerable needs of other IDPs and camp residents, returnees, host
families, and village residents. End Summary

Objectives, Site Locations, and Contacts

2. (U) From 10 - 23 October 2009, USAID/OFDA representatives from
Washington and Kinshasa undertook a rapid field study of the sudden
exodus of between 58,000 and 65,000 residents from six of the eight
camps for displaced populations located in the greater Goma area.
The study aimed to (1) examine the nature of the exodus as it
relates to humanitarian protection and voluntary departure; (2)
discuss with returnees their condition, needs and capacities in
return and transit areas; and (3) make recommendations for
humanitarian assistance strategies/processes, and selected response
and mitigation initiatives for North Kivu.

3. (U) The assessment team visited consolidated camps in Goma as
well as transit sites, return areas and spontaneous settlements
along three axes: (1) Goma - Masisi; (2) Goma - Kirolirwe; (3) and
Goma - Kiwanja. The team also collected information during meetings
with humanitarian partners, and from interviews with camp residents,
returnees, UN organizations and other humanitarian actors. Security
concerns limited both the areas that could be visited and the length
of the team's stay in the field.

Goma Camp Closures

4. (U) According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
steps for camps closures started in January with food rations being
cut to 50% as a result of a WFP study indicating decreased food
needs. Beginning in August 2009, heads of households were requested
to determine their departure date from the camps. According to
UNHCR, all Bulengo and Buhimba residents picked between September 14
and 15, Mugunga I residents selected between September 15 and 16,
and Mugunga II decided to vacate the camp between September 25 and
26. After the return date has been selected, UNHCR provided signed
certificates of voluntary return to heads of household indicating
their expected date of departure. The IDPs believed that only
certificate holders would be entitled to distributions of non-food
items (NFIs), three months of food rations, and a seeds and tools
package at distribution sites located in their areas of return.
However, UNHCR staff pointed out to the team that although
certificates are required for distributions, they are no guarantee
to distributions as beneficiaries will be determined based on the
level of vulnerability in return areas.

5. (U) According to returnees interviewed, government
representatives had been applying pressure to IDP camp leaders to
announce the camp closures. These announcements were made jointly
by camp leaders and government representatives, who reported that
food and non-food items would be provided only in areas of return.
Some returnees reported that camp leaders who resisted were
threatened. Some residents were told that if they remained they
would be considered interahamwe (a term used for the 1994
genocidaires from Rwanda) and detained. Others reported that some
government representatives told residents that they needed to go
home to protect their land from other returnees including Congolese
Tutsi refugees from Rwanda. Therefore, most felt obligated to accept
the conditions and many started departing the camps starting with
Kibati I, Bulengo, Buhimba, and Kibati II.

6. (U) The closure of Mungunga I involved egregious violations of
human rights and dignity. According to both IDPs and many
humanitarian organizations, in the late afternoon of September 18,
two days after the camp was supposed to be closed, a group of young
people, believed to be members of the communities surrounding the
camps entered the camp and began tearing down shelters and looting
houses and public facilities. Some of the camp residents resisted,
and the police responded by firing shots. Three women were wounded
and subsequently evacuated by MONUC troops. In the chaos, the IDPs
left rapidly, in mini-buses for those who could afford it and by
foot by most, with little or no protection and assistance from
humanitarian organizations (a few private individuals and Handicap
International rushed to assist disabled and other highly vulnerable
individuals including pregnant women and very old people by
providing transportation). Between 15 and 26 September, all
UNHCR-managed camps in Goma except for Mugunga III suddenly closed.

7. (U) Returnees interviewed, not only those from Mugunga I camp,
were very upset at the way they were treated during the period of
the camp closures. It is logical to encourage and facilitate the
return of camp residents when home areas are secure/safe, health and
nutrition have reached non-emergency levels, and the return is free,
informed and not achieved through means such as coercion, trickery
or violence. The violence such as that carried out in Mugunga I that
obligated frightened camp residents to leave rapidly in an unsafe,
undignified, and otherwise unacceptable manner, represents a clear
violation of human rights and humanitarian principles that should be

8. (U) All non-UN organizations interviewed stated they were
surprised and angered by the rapidity of the closure, and that
because they learned of the closures so late they were not prepared
to provide protection or timely support to the returnees.

9. (U) Unfortunately, some of the IDPs interviewed appeared
convinced that the GNK, UN, and both local and international NGOs
had worked together to close the camps, a fact which has damaged
what trust they might have had in humanitarian organizations.

Conditions, Services, and Land Access
in Return/Transit Areas

10. (U) The IDPs who left the camps scattered to a variety of
locations. Some stayed in Goma, integrating into the local economy,
some went to transit sites located near other distribution centers,
others have settled into sites close to their home areas where they
can monitor the security situation, while some have been able to
return home.

11. (U) Although most sites of return visited by the study team were
preferable to conditions in the camps, conditions reflect years of
neglect and underdevelopment that have been exacerbated by the
ravage of war. As a result, returnees who were able to settle into
villages in newly secure areas face a variety of problems that stem
from chronic underdevelopment that manifests itself through under-
or non-performing schools and health systems, poor roads and market
infrastructure, and damaged or inexistent water and sanitation

12. (U) The issue of land control and access in the current context
of instability is important and problematic in North Kivu.
Returnees and humanitarian partners described a wide variety of
returnee relationships to land in home areas. While some still own
and can lay uncontested claim to their land, others are finding
their land taken over by those who remained behind or by other
displaced individuals. Some sold their land at a very low price
before they left and are trying to buy it back with varying degree
of success. Others never owned land and are now working as tenant
farmers or renting land. There are also returnees that are taking
over other people's land or expanding their holdings with assistance
from local government and military authorities.


13. (U) Security concerns were the first priority of camp and
village residents, returnees and IDPs. In all the sites visited
people discussed in detail their concerns about either past,
current, or anticipated violence and insecurity. Sexual and
gender-based violence remain at epidemic levels in some marginally
or highly insecure sites. Villagers interviewed reported recent
rapes of both men and women. Women were in fear of violence each
time they left the village to cultivate their fields and collect
wood or water. At Rubaya, a site along the Goma-Rutshuru axis, women
reported going to the fields in groups of four or five as a
protection measure.

WASH Services for Returnees:

14. (U) The water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services for the
returnees from the Goma camps are limited to the provision of a soft
plastic water jug as part of an NFI distribution coordinated by
UNHCR. No other WASH interventions are specifically planned for
this population. It is expected that the Goma Camp returnees along
with other returnees will receive services through development
programs or cholera rapid response interventions, which include
water system repair, spring improvement and latrine installation.

Health Services for Returnees

15. (U) All returnees are expected to receive health services
through the local government health facilities in rural areas.
Unfortunately, government health delivery systems have virtually no
or limited capacity to provide healthcare to its population. A
variety of NGOs is working in stable areas of return, implementing
health projects that appear to be closely coordinated with the
government health delivery systems. The majority of health
intervention programs being implemented by NGOs working in health
Qintervention programs being implemented by NGOs working in health
outside of camps appear to be developmental in nature as opposed to
emergency response interventions. These programs will require
long-term funding in order to have a positive impact on the health
delivery system in North Kivu.

Non-Food Items and Food Distributions:

16. (U) The Goma camp returnees were eligible to receive a
resettlement NFI package, three months of rations and a
seed/agricultural tool package. These commodities are being/have
been distributed at eight regional centers. This assistance is
provided to only those with certificates, who must appear in person
to collect the goods. UNHCR reported that all the NFI distributions
have been completed, and interviews with Goma camp returnees
revealed NFI distributions had been received.

Community Relations and Governance

17. (U) In some areas, regional and local governance have become
vastly more complex. In parts of the Masisi Territory, elements of
the CNDP have inserted their own representatives, creating a
governance structure in parallel to existing official structures.
This will inevitably cause tensions and/or conflicts over decision
making and control of land, minerals and other assets, and
constituent support.

18. (U) The relationships among returnees and village residents vary
widely. Returnees in near Kirolirwe appear to be honoring individual
claims to houses and fields, noting that property boundaries are
still clearly delineated by trees. Near Sake, the team spoke with
several dozens of returnees who were arguing heatedly with each
other about entitlements and distributions of benefits, and
ownership of certificates. We also found that there was much
confusion over distribution schedule and dates of distributions.

19. (U) The team found evidence that some populations, particularly
WaMbuti (pygmies), are being seriously discriminated against, losing
access to distributions and basic needs. In Mubambiro, a village
just northeast of Sake, a group of WaMbuti appeared not knowing
about distribution dates and locations. Some claimed that non-Mbuti
individuals had collected their certificates pretending to be
helping them claim their benefits, but never returned. A pipe that
had brought spring water to the area where they had settled had been
purposefully broken to cut the supply and provide it closer to the
non-Mbuti households. These populations are particularly vulnerable
because they do not own land as they traditionally live in the
forest and do not have anywhere to return to.

Observations and Recommendations

20. (U) It is the opinion of the study team that the excessive
violence used during the rapid exodus of IDPs from Mugunga I rightly
points to human rights abuses. The process used in closing the six
camps suggests the violation of humanitarian principles. The closure
process is also believed to have damaged relations among the GNK,
humanitarian organizations, and the displaced populations they have
been assisting. Some IDPs have returned to secure environments and
are receiving assistance while others from still-insecure areas have
opted to stay in transit sites and with host families. It is a
struggle for most returnees to know how to access humanitarian goods
and services. The transition from camp to village life continues to
be a challenge to many returnees.

21. (U) Lessons learned from the Goma camps closure need to be
applied in the planned upcoming camp closures in Masisi. This should
include improvements in information sharing, sensitization of the
camp residents, investigations of security in home areas, and the
scheduling of returns. It is imperative to follow the condition,
progress, needs and capacities of returnees in home/transit areas
using standardized surveillance and monitoring tools as best as
possible. The study team feels that assistance needs to be provided
based on the relative vulnerability rather than the status of
various groups. Protection efforts, including protection monitoring
and assistance should be enhanced and harmonized and initiatives
addressing rapes and other gender-based violence be expanded.
Mechanisms insuring orderly and voluntary return of refugees need to
be put in place before facilitating the return of large numbers of
Congolese refugees from Rwanda as massive return of Tutsi refugees
is widely predicted to cause considerable tension and conflict over
land access, ownership and use. Although food distribution appears
critical, it is important to examine the duration of food benefits
to avoid causing distortions in local markets and discouraging local
production and consumption

22. (U) Programmatically, the study team recommends consolidating
assistance programs that used to have specific targets (newly
displaced, returnees) to ensure greater flexibility of response
while harmonizing assistance. It is important to increase funding to
allow for the necessary and increasing logistical costs associated
with accessing remote return areas. To returnees, shelters needs are
capital in their decision to return, and it is therefore important
that shelter needs are addressed in return areas. Additional support
is needed for initiatives that are addressing land tenure and access
issues, which are critical province-wide, particularly with the
predicted return of Congolese refugees from bordering countries.
Support initiatives that offer conflict mitigation and resolution
need to be recommended and protection activities should be
integrated into existing and planned programs in all sectors

23. (U) It is important to highlight that the returnees from Goma
camps represent only a very small fraction of the vulnerable
populations in North Kivu. OCHA has estimated between January and
September 2009 the number of IDPs in North Kivu at 690,758 and
432,804 spontaneous returnees. Overemphasis on returnees from Goma
camps will distract from the considerable needs of returnees who
have returned spontaneously from host families and spontaneous camps
throughout North Kivu. The problem presented by Goma returnees are
the same faced by hundreds of thousands of people who have returned
voluntarily and who are not benefiting from the special assistance
offered to those from official camps. The significant challenge
facing humanitarian actors in North Kivu is to determine how to
regularize and equalize assistance to the various categories of
people, emphasizing assessed capacities and vulnerability rather
than status of displacement.


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