UNHCR starts repatriation of tens of thousands of Congolese

Briefing Notes, 11 May 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 May 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Over the past week, UNHCR has ferried hundreds of Congolese refugees back to a northern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the start of a voluntary repatriation programme from Republic of Congo. We plan to help 81,000 people return home to Equateur province by July next year.

UNHCR began the operation last Saturday, when a small pilot convoy of boats took 79 refugees from the town of Betou in north-east Republic of Congo to Dongo on the other side of the Oubangui River in the DRC. On Tuesday, a second convoy took a further 323 refugees from the Eboko site in ROC across the river to Dongo.

We plan to repatriate 246 refugees today from the village of Ikpengbele, near Betou, to the town of Libenge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Another convoy is scheduled to leave Ikpengbele for Libenge on Tuesday.

More than 85 per cent of the returnees have been women and children, and they were taken on to their areas of origin in Equateur. Under the repatriation programme, UNHCR hopes to assist 49,000 refugees return this year from ROC and 32,000 next year. Convoys will be organized every Tuesday and Friday. The refugee agency also plans to repatriate Congolese refugees from Central African Republic, but this programme is still being developed.

The operation for Republic of Congo is a major logistical challenge for UNHCR and its partners, with refugees dispersed in 106 remote sites along a 500-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui River. Another problem is the low water level on the Oubangui, which makes navigation difficult. Heavy rain before Tuesday's convoy helped raise the water level and made the journey easier, our field staff report.

On arrival at transit centres in Equateur province, they are registered, attend sensitization sessions, are medically screened, fed and given a small cash grant and aid package, including plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets and blankets.

The returnees on the two convoys were among an estimated 143,000 civilians who fled to neighbouring countries (123,000 to Republic of Congo and 20,000 to Central African Republic) to escape inter-ethnic clashes sparked by fishing and farming disputes in Equateur in late 2009 between the Enyele and Munzaya communities. Those crossing to the Republic of Congo sought shelter in remote riverside settlements.

A further 100,000 sought safety in other parts of Equateur, but most went back to their villages as the situation improved. Thousands of refugees have returned spontaneously from the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, but many people remaining in ROC come over to check their lands on a regular basis.

UNHCR has been helping the returnees, providing shelter kits and constructing more than 200 homes for the vulnerable. It has also been promoting reconciliation between the Enyele and Munzaya, who signed a non-aggression pact early last year.

As part of the reconciliation programme, a UNHCR-funded community radio station went on air last October.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kinshasa,Simon Lubuku on mobile +243 81 950 0202

  • In Geneva, Leo Dobbs on office no: +41 22 739 8394/mobile: +41 22 79 883 6347





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

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

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