UNHCR ends Congolese returns from Zambia, reopens Burundi axis

Briefing Notes, 29 October 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 October 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is this week closing the last remaining camps for Congolese refugees in Zambia following the departure on Wednesday of the final repatriation convoy for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The closure of the two camps, Kala and Mwange, is a landmark for us in that it marks the end of our Congolese voluntary repatriation programme from Zambia. Repatriations of Congolese refugees from all other neighbouring countries are continuing

Wednesday's convoy left Kala camp carrying 131 refugees, the last of 47,000 we have helped to return to DRC over the past four years. Most of those on board were headed for Katanga province in southwestern DRC, where UNHCR and its partners implement projects helping reintegration, mainly through skills-training and the provision of micro-credit schemes. The last convoy from Mwange camp left a month ago.

The returnees spent their first day in a reception centre where they received mine awareness training, information about HIV/AIDS and where necessary medical assistance. Before leaving to their villages they are being provided with food, a construction kit for rehabilitation of homes, blankets, soap, kitchen sets and other household items. Later, they will receive seeds and farming tools to support their livelihoods.

Some 2,000 other refugees, who did not want to return, have been transferred to the Meheba settlement in Zambia's northwest. Unlike Kala and Mwange camps, Meheba has a lot more land, allowing refugees to grow crops and become self-reliant. UNHCR will facilitate the repatriation of those who eventually opt to return to the DRC on an individual basis. The 15,000 people presently living at the Meheba settlement come from Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda.

UNHCR will now hand over to the Zambian authorities the facilities at Kala and Mwange the office buildings, staff accommodation, guesthouses, schools, clinics, and water points. These facilities, which are worth some US$ 800,000, will continue to be of service to the Zambian authorities and the local population. Local communities have for some time been able to access social services and health care provided by clinics in the two camps. In addition to setting up water systems in the camps, UNHCR sank boreholes in villages surrounding Mwange and Kala camps to help the local Zambian population.

Civil war in the DRC left more than five million dead and forced millions into displacement between 1998 and 2004. Of those Congolese who became refugees in surrounding countries, tens of thousands found shelter in Zambia. At the height of the crisis in 2004 Zambia hosted some 66,000 Congolese refugees in five camps.

In another country that has hosted Congolese, Burundi, UNHCR yesterday resumed organized repatriations after a more than three-year suspension. The returns were halted in mid-2007 because of fighting in DRC's South Kivu province. Yesterday's convoy carried 173 people from Gasorwe camp in northern Burundi

Upon return they receive three months food rations, blankets, shelter materials, kitchen sets and other household items, mosquito nets, seeds and tools. The operation is closely coordinated with the Congolese government's Programme for Stabilisation and Reconstruction.

We are scheduling weekly repatriation convoys from Burundi to South Kivu, each returning some 200 refugees. Before the end of the year, we hope to facilitate the return of some 2,000 Congolese refugees from Burundi and another 10,000 during 2011. In total there are some 40,000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers in Burundi, living in three camps and in the capital Bujumbura. Most are from DRC's Uvira, Fizi, Rusizi plain and Mid-Plateux in South Kivu.

Overall, 212,000 Congolese nationals have returned home from surrounding countries since 2004, however some 430,000 remain as refugees, mostly in the Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

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Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

On the Road: UNHCR Transfers Congolese Refugees to A Home in Uganda

In mid-July 2013, thousands of Congolese refugees began pouring over the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into Bundibugyo district in western Uganda. They were fleeing fighting triggered when a Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces, attacked the town of Kamango in DRC's troubled North Kivu province. Many stayed in the mountainous border area, but others gravitated to the Bubukwanga Transit Centre deeper inside Uganda. Here, they were provided with protection and aid by the government, UNHCR and its partners. But the transit centre, with a capacity to hold 12,500 people, was soon overcrowded and people were encouraged to move to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement located 280 kilometres to the north in Hoima District. Since the first convoy left Bubukwanga for Kyangwali on August 14, more than 11,000 people have relocated to the settlement, where they have access to more comprehensive and long-term services. Photographer Michele Sibiloni recently visited Bubukwanga and followed a convoy of refugees as they made their way to the Kyangwali settlement.

On the Road: UNHCR Transfers Congolese Refugees to A Home in Uganda

UNHCR's 2013 Nansen Refugee Award Winner

Sister Angélique Namaika, a Congolese nun who has shown exceptional courage and unwavering support for survivors of violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been selected as the 2013 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal Ugandan rebel group, has waged a campaign of violence that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people in north-eastern DRC's Orientale province over the past decade. Many Congolese women and girls have been kidnapped and terrorized.

Sister Angélique has been a beacon of hope for these victims, known for her very personal, one-on-one approach to help survivors move beyond their trauma. Many of the people under her care have been forcibly displaced and subjected to sexual violence.

The brutality of the LRA is notorious and the testimonials of the women Sister Angélique has helped are horrific. Adding to their trauma is the fact that many of the victims are stigmatized by society because of their experience. It takes a special person to help them heal and rebuild their lives.

This Year's Nansen Refugee Award winner has spent the past decade helping women, mostly through a combination of income-generation activities, skills development courses, literacy training and psycho-social counselling. She has made a positive difference to the lives of thousands of individuals, their families and communities.

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