Just like neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes Region, Kenya hosts a considerable number of Congolese refugees both in refugee camps and urban centres.
Official and anecdotal information indicates that the Congolese refugees, in terms of population, are the third largest in East and Horn of Africa, after Somalia and Ethiopian refugee population. Majority of the Congolese refugees speak French and Kiswahili and many have by now learned English too.
Over the years, a number of Congolese refugees have migrated to urban centres, dominantly in Nairobi, to pursue livelihood and education opportunities. A study carried out by Karanja (2010) indicates that by moving to the city, refugees hope to improve their lives, flee from prosecution and find alternative educational settings where their children can have better access to quality education.
The urban refugee situation in Nairobi is Pan-African and complex in nature, with refugees from eight countries (Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi) represented.
Globally, as of 1 January 2014, almost half a million refugees had fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) making the DRC refugee population the sixth largest in the world. Various conflicts since the 1960s have created Congolese refugees, and refugees from the DRC now represent 18 per cent of the total refugee population in Africa.
Among the 455,522 Congolese refugees registered in Africa as of 1 January 2014, some 50 per cent (225,609 persons) are in the Great Lakes Region, approximately 39 per cent (177,751 persons) are in the East and Horn of Africa, and 11 per cent (52,162) are in the Southern Africa region. (Source: UNHCR Fact Sheet)
Roselyn Ngalula and her family, currently living in an informal settlement in Nairobi, is part of the Congolese refugee community in Kenya. She fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998. She was living in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo when the war erupted in her home town.
16 YEARS LATER, ROSELYN IS YET TO REUNITE WITH HER RELATIVES
“I fled with my children to Kisangani by foot, when fighting started in Goma. Before arriving in Kisangani, we set camp at a place called Minovia, where we slept outside a Catholic Church. The experience was horrible. The rebel group, Mai Mai, was ruthlessly killing people and eating their body parts. People were also being buried alive. What I saw during that time remains the most horrific and inhumane acts I have ever witnessed. The war separated me from my family and I do not know their whereabouts to date. I have also not heard from my husband since 2011.” Rose says.
LUCKY TO BE HERE
Life in Kenya has been peaceful. I usually tell Kenyans in church that they should be grateful to God that they live in a relatively peaceful country. However, many people in Kenya think that refugees live off hand-outs and that they do not need to work hard so as to earn a living. This perception is false. I have worked so hard so that I can provide for myself and for my children. I have sold second-hand clothes in Githurai (Githurai is a slumburbia in Nairobi,Kenya. It is in the Eastern part of Nairobi, about 12 km from the city centre. Its population likely exceeds 800,000 persons), I have done laundry for people, I have joined numerous self-help groups for women, all that so I can earn a basic living.
CANADIAN ORIENTATION ABROAD
Roselyn received a phone call from UNHCR informing her of the impending resettlement to Canada. “This resettlement was another blessing from God and I am so grateful. I have passed all the interviews and I have gone through a pre-departure orientation session with IOM and I am ready to resettle to Canada.
I underwent this pre-departure orientation session together with a group of other refugees from my country, at the IOM Transit Centre in Nairobi. The orientation has given me insights of what to expect in Canada. The facilitator emphasized the importance of learning the English or French language during that first year. I am prepared to put in a lot of efforts to learn the language, so as to avoid language barriers during my stay in Canada.
Pre-departure orientation has also taught me the importance of financial planning; that is, budgeting with the basic financial assistance that we will be receiving during our first twelve months in Canada. I now know that once I start working, I will need to be very smart before I spend, and whenever I do, I will need to spend wisely.”
In 2012 and 2013, Congolese refugees constituted 42 per cent of all submissions in Africa - the largest African country of origin submitted for resettlement. This trend is likely to continue in 2015. Previously, the main country of origin submitted for resettlement out of Africa was Somalia.
UNHCR’s target / resettlement capacity for 2013 was for the submission of 9,310 Congolese refugees. This target was exceeded by 2,678 Congolese refugee cases; representing 128 per cent of the submission target.
Apart from the four targeted countries in the Great Lakes region (Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda), Kenya and the Southern Africa region contributed considerably to this positive overall result with a total of 1,783 and 2,651 submissions respectively.
According to the Projected Global Resettlement Needs publication 2014, UNHCR plans to submit from Africa alone 19,892 refugees in 2015.