Congolese refugees in Zambia keen to hear about conditions back home

News Stories, 15 October 2008

© UNHCR/S.Schulman
Life in Katanga: potential returnees from refugee camps in Zambia want to know if basic services, including schools, are adequate.

LUSAKA, Zambia, October 15 (UNHCR) Six Congolese were mobbed by fellow refugees eager for news earlier this month when they returned to camps in northern Zambia after paying a "go-and-see" visit to their home areas in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The visit to Moba district abutting Lake Tanganyika was organized by the UN refugee agency as part of efforts to promote the repatriation over the next two years of some 30,000 Congolese refugees living in the Kala and Mwange camps.

"The six refugees [three men and three women] had a first-hand look at conditions and reintegration programmes in their home areas in the Moba district of Katanga province," said James Lynch, UNHCR's representative in Zambia, who travelled with the refugees. "Last Friday they held the first in a series of meetings with fellow refugees in Kala and Mwange," he added.

Isaac Ndala, a senior UNHCR field clerk who is coordinating the meetings, said refugees in the camps had mobbed the six because they were so keen to hear first-hand impressions about the situation back home after years in exile.

"We'll continue with these meetings in the two camps for the whole of this week. It is hoped that those refugees who are still hesitant will be persuaded to consider returning home," said Ndala.

The six refugees who took part in the go-and-see visit were chosen from both camps, which are located some 300 kilometres from the border with DRC. They represented a good cross-section of the refugee population in the two camps. They travelled by road to Moba via the town of Pweto.

Upon arrival in Moba town, the group was met by representatives of the UNHCR sub-office and local authorities. Arrangements were made to visit various villages within the Moba area; meet relatives; and look at health, water and education facilities. The refugees also discussed issues such as land and housing with returnees and the local authorities. The group of six, most of whom fled DRC almost a decade ago, had tearful reunions with relatives and friends.

"While the decision to repatriate is voluntary, we hope that showing refugees the reintegration process first-hand will raise interest in repatriation," said Lynch. "It was very moving to see the emotions of the visiting refugees on meeting former camp residents with whom they had fled DRC and who had returned home and were doing very well."

UNHCR in Zambia has stepped up an information campaign aimed at encouraging the Congolese refugees to return home before the rainy season starts in December and return voyages by vehicle and boat are suspended for about five months.

Since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme began in 2007, more than 14,300 Congolese refugees have returned home with the agency's help from Zambia. UNHCR hopes to help another 30,000 Congolese return home over the next two years. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) arranges transportation, while the World Food Programme (WFP) provides food to the returnees.

Zambia currently hosts more than 86,000 refugees, including around 56,000 in camps. Congolese make up the majority of refugees some 50,000 followed by Angolans (27,000) and smaller numbers from Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia.

By Kelvin Shimo in Lusaka, Zambia





UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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