On Monday, 7 April 2014, the U.S. Mission to the European Union organised informal briefings and roundtable discussions with NGOs and State representatives on international plans to increase the resettlement of Congolese refugees from the Great Lakes region with experts from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Participants over the two meetings included the EC, ECRE, Fedasil, ICMC, IOM and UNHCR, with State representation from Belgium, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK.
The PRM guest speakers included the Deputy Refugee Coordinator to the US Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, Mr. Craig Halbmaier, and the PRM Office of Admissions’ Program Officer for Africa, Ms. Sumitra Siram, who discussed the findings from their recent monitoring and evaluation visit to Africa’s Great Lakes region. They also provided an overview of the new U.S. policy with respect to the resettlement of Congolese to the United States. Additionally, representatives from UNHCR and IOM provided an insight on the 2012-2017 Enhanced Congolese Resettlement Programme, while the European Resettlement Network presented on its activities, including those of the SHARE Network, and resettlement in Europe more generally.
PRM communicated how, owing to refugee populations of various sizes scattered throughout the African continent, processing is quite difficult, with challenges in gaining access to them. However, the US will continue to make significant investments in Africa, including, for example, the development of more clinics to facilitate the medical clearance of refugees prior to their arrival to the US, which is a requirement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On the four primary countries of asylum for Congolese, processing from Rwanda and Uganda is progressing quickly, while Burundi and Tanzania are moving more slowly. The refugee profile is typically characterized by high trauma, which makes this a particularly vulnerable group. On average, it takes approximately one to three years for the resettlement of African populations to the US, with an emphasis on low fraud and high security. PRM outlined the comparative advantage of European procedures versus the US in this regard, which typically allows for the faster processing of emergency and urgent cases. However, while current US caseloads are primarily comprised of Somali’s, it is hoped that with the increased resettlement of Congolese that this processing average will reduce over time.
UNHCR reiterated that the Congolese are highly vulnerable refugees who have experienced high trauma, including Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and torture. Ongoing challenges include, for example, staffing for registration, the expense involved in accessing remote populations, re-verification procedures, complex family composition and the need for Best Interest Assessments/Best Interest Determination (BIA/BID). In general, UNHCR has to conduct Best Interest Determination (BID) in 60 per cent of cases, while there are also concerns around stateless children when parents are unable to claim citizenship for their child. The tremendous value of the deployment schemes, involving ICMC and RefugePoint, was noted by UNHCR, which plays a central role in the resettlement of Congolese refugees. IOM also noted the logistical challenges, high level of trauma, and the need for adequate pre-departure assistance In addition, insight was provided by IOM into the different processes and services for resettlement provided in the region.
In 2012 and 2013, Congolese refugees constituted 42 per cent of all UNHCR submissions in Africa, constituting the largest African country of origin submitted for resettlement (previously Somalia). UNHCR confirmed that the targets for 2012 and 2013 were met, while a re-verification process in Tanzania is ongoing and will be completed shortly. On the Congolese Refugee Contact Group, which was established on 6 November 2013 and is chaired by the US, it was acknowledged that the Terms of Reference are quite broad at this point in time, though as it was only recently instituted, these will be refined over time. In this regard, Member States were encouraged to engage with the Contact Group in helping it to meet its objectives and to realize better rights for refugees in their countries of asylum. The development of policy coherence on the latter was suggested as an issue of focus for the Contact Group.
Owing to the particular vulnerabilities and high trauma experienced by Congolese refugees, their integration has been found to be more difficult in certain countries, while they tend to have high expectations, which was also suggested as a point of focus for the Contact Group. Acquiring the language of the country of resettlement, particularly in the European context was cited as an issue, which in turn impacts upon their integration and employment prospects. The importance of clarifying family composition was also stressed, particularly owing to the complications attached to family reunification following resettlement.
While the resettlement of Congolese refugees remains a priority for UNHCR, it was added that this should not distract from the needs of other priority groups, and most particularly Somali’s. States are therefore encouraged to consider the resettlement of other groups currently in Southern Africa in addition to the Congolese owing to the challenges that many are facing, including increasing xenophobia.
For more information on the protracted situation of Congolese refugees, as well as other protracted refugee situations, please visit the ERN’s Refugee Situations in Focus page here.