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'Free Congo:' Refugees in Scranton call for peace on anniversary of fraught Congolese independence

Clemintine Mwefu holds a "Free Congo" sign during a peaceful march in Scranton for justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kat Bolus
/
WVIA News
Clemintine Mwefu holds a "Free Congo" sign during a peaceful march in downtown Scranton for justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A small group of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) pushed for true independence for their country during a march in downtown Scranton.

"Since independence in 1960, up to now, our country has not seen real peace," said Ushu Mukelo, president of the Congolese Community of Scranton.

On June 30, 1960, Congo gained independence from Belgium. The decades since have brought political turmoil and violence to the mineral-rich country in Africa. Many natives were forced to flee and found new homes in Scranton.

The displacement crisis in the Congo is one of the largest in the world, second only to Sudan, according to the United Nations.

Many in the group wore red, yellow and blue — the colors of the country's flag — and the flag on their clothing. Heritier Dunia is vice president of the Scranton organization. The DRC flag was tied around his body. Walking over eight city blocks, they sang songs for peace in Congo and chanted for justice.

Afterwards, the community gathered at St. Mary's Center for a screening of a documentary on the DRC, shared meals and heard from community elders.

Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now call Scranton home, march for peace in their country.
Kat Bolus
/
WVIA News
Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now call Scranton home, march for peace in their country.

Mukelo said the majority of the refugees in Scranton are from Eastern Congo. That’s the most mineral rich area of the country and where most of the conflict takes place. Armed groups battle over people and resources causing widespread poverty, violence and chaos.

Many of the over 100 families now in Scranton, came from refugee camps all over Africa.

Mukelo lived in a refugee camp in Uganda. Dunia left Congo when he was six for a refugee camp in Zambia. Catholic Social Services helps the Congolese people resettle in Scranton.

Armed groups often take over small villages near mining areas.

"They take over these areas so they can control the mines and, and the mining of these illicit minerals," said Mukelo.

During the protest, the group also chanted “no Congo, no iPhone.”

International lawyers representing the country said in a letter in April that the tech giant sources materials from Eastern Congo. Apple has denied those accusations in the past.

Mukelo said holding the march in Scranton is strategic.

“There is a chance it's going to reach the desk of the President in D.C.," he said, noting President Joe Biden's ties to the city.

Dunia said the march was also to show support for the families still living in Congo and refugee camps.

"We are with them no matter what," he said.

Mukelo said while they are enjoying what the United States provides, he wants those still in the path of conflict and refugee camps to know: “We are still with you, we feel the pain and we want to see total emancipation of the Congolese people."

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org