In Focus: Congolese refugees in Kenya

07 Jul In Focus: Congolese refugees in Kenya

The Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) regional site in Nairobi, Kenya, is the second largest refugee training location in the world, providing on-site and mobile training to more than 1,500 refugees every year in over 10 countries and 20 locations in Eastern and Southern Africa. This article focuses on Congolese refugees, one of the largest refugee group found in the sub-region

Lilian Matama

Project Information Unit

Louise Bélanger

Global Project Manager

According to the UNHCR, as of 1 January 2014, almost half a million Congolese nationals fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), making the DRC refugee population the sixth largest in the world. Refugees from the DRC now represent 18% of the total refugee population in Africa. Among the 455,522 Congolese refugees registered in Africa as of January 1, 2014, almost 50% remain in the Great Lakes Region, while 39% have made their way to the East and Horn of Africa, and 11% to the Southern Africa region.

Kenya hosts a considerable number of Congolese refugees both in refugee camps and urban centers. Congolese nationals are the third largest group of refugees in Kenya, followed by the Somalis and Ethiopians. A large number of refugees in Kenya are concentrated in the Dadaab (north-east) and Kakuma (north-west) refugee camps. Over the years, many have left the harsh conditions prevailing in camps and migrated to informal, urban settlements in Nairobi. Refugees moving to the city hope to secure better jobs, improve their living conditions and enrol their children into formal educational programs. Congolese generally speak Swahili and French, with many becoming fluent in English after a few years in Kenya.

During fiscal year 2014-15, more than 40% of the refugee participants accessing the COA training through the regional site in Kenya were Congolese. The following testimonial is the story of Ms. Roselyn Ngalula, a Congolese refugee participant who attended the COA session in IOM Kenya on February 18, 2015.

I left with my children by foot, heading to Kisangani, 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.

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 center. Its population likely exceeds 800,000 persons), I have done laundry for people and joined numerous self-help groups for women, all that so I can earn a basic living.

Kenya - Picture of Roselyn Ngalula

This resettlement was another blessing from God and I am so grateful. I have passed all the interviews and I have gone through a Canadian Orientation Abroad 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 English or French in the 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.