Protracted Congolese refugees, return aspirations, and the (re)imagining of Congo [slides]


This preliminary work exploring field data at Mahama camp, Rwanda, was presented at the 2022 conference of the American Association of Geographers, as part of the ‘Territorializing Memory’ panel organized by Miranda Meyer and Stefan Norgaard.


For the most part, Congolese refugees at Mahama have been living within this camp since the mid-1990s. In recounting their memories of past homes, lives, and relationships, these stories are often described through the language of territory. In linking their past to future aspirations of an eventual return, time and space intimately intersect, where territory as defined through memory practices surviving the test of time are formulative to refugees’ claims, hopes, and grievances du jour. In other words, memory practices produce a sense of territory amongst refugees despite their geographic separation from these physical and imagined places. Meanwhile, the territorial landscape of North Kivu – their place of origin – has undergone radical transformations as a result of armed conflict and resource extraction. Thus, the nexus of memory and territory as expressed by refugees who contemplate return is at odds with present day geographic conditions in return areas. This paper explores this tension, drawing on field data collected with Congolese living at Mahama refugee camp, Rwanda. It explores how these refugees negotiate the tension between memorialization and territorialization when discussing their desired and imagined futures of return. As peacebuilders, Congolese government, civil society, and other local stakeholders participate in the brokering of new peace landscapes in the Congo, this research shows that refugees wishing to return also lay territorial claims. In order for their return to be successful, this research asks these actors to consider the importance of forced migrant geographies of memory in their operational territorially-oriented mandates.


Presentation slides are available here.