Scores of Rwandans seeking to cross into DR Congo through Petite Bariere border in Rubavu District have been stranded since Tuesday following the imposition of visa fees.
The new visa costs $30 (Rwf20,300) per year for students, $50(Rwf33,900) for informal business people for a three-month stay, while for people employed in DR Congo it is $250 (Rwf169,500) per month.
Lucie Ndeta, a Congolese immigration official, told the stranded travellers yesterday that all Rwandans crossing into DR Congo must pay visa fees.
Rwandans who spoke to The New Times yesterday, especially informal traders who conduct business in DR Congo, expressed fears that their businesses would be greatly affected.
"It is a big challenge for us who crossed this border freely for years. Our lives depend on informal business between the two countries and charging us visa fees is not fair as some of us can't afford it," Vestine Uwambaje, a grocery trader, said.
A student who studies in DR Congo said it came as a surprise and was not sure whether he would manage to continue with his studies in the neighbouring country.
"I started primary school in DR Congo and now I am in S5. We were asked to have identity cards and student cards only but this way of paying for visa fees is sad," the student, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said.
The visa requirement at Rubavu border comes months after the same procedure was introduced at the Rwanda-Congo border of Bukavu in Rusizi District.
However, the policy has been criticised as being against the spirit of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Region (CEPGL), to which Rwanda, DR Congo and Burundi subscribe.
The CEPGL agreement, signed by the three countries in 2011, provides for free movement of people across the borders of the partner states.
Rubavu mayor Hassan Bahame said he had contacted Goma town officials and been promised a revision on the new rules.
"Introducing visa fees for members of CPGL is against our agreement, first it was the Bukavu border in Rusizi and now Rubavu... border residents used to cross freely after presenting identity cards, but the situation is becoming hard," he said.
Herman Tuyaga, CEPGL executive secretary, said the move by the Kinshasa government undermines the spirit of economic integration to which both countries committed through the regional grouping.
He said in the framework signed by the ministers of foreign affairs of member states in July 2011, the residents of partner states are exempted from any fees when entering any of the three counties.
"Our role is to see if the agreements signed among the member states are respected and remind those against them to reverse the decision that might affect member states," he said.
Tuyaga said the visa policy will be discussed in the next meeting of foreign affairs ministers and migration officials.