UNHCR completes challenging repatriation of almost 120,000 Congolese refugees

News Stories, 5 August 2014

© UNHCR/G.Diasivi
Congolese refugees disembark from the boat that has brought them back home across the Oubangui River.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, August 5 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has successfully completed the voluntary repatriation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of almost 120,000 refugees from neighbouring Republic of Congo.

Local boats last Wednesday took the final 81 Congolese refugees across the Oubangui River from the town of Betou in Republic of Congo to reception centres run by UNHCR in the Equateur province towns of Siforco, Izato and Dongo.

Their return marked the end of five years in exile. They were among some 160,000 people who fled to neighbouring countries 140,000 in Republic of Congo and 20,000 in the Central African Republic when clashes erupted in 2009 between the Munzaya and Enyele communities over traditional fishing rights.

Under a challenging repatriation operation launched by UNHCR in May 2012, a total of 119,000 were ferried home across the river from the isolated areas they had been living in along a 600-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui, which marks the border between Republic of Congo and the DRC.

The last group of returning refugees were welcomed back last week by Congolese authorities and local residents as well as UNHCR and its partners. Upon their arrival, UNHCR and the government provided returnees with identity documents, information on reintegration assistance, HIV/AIDS awareness training and medical help. UNHCR also gave returnees a cash grant for travel to their final destinations and to help them settle.

Once home, returnees benefit from reintegration programmes that provide health care, education, shelter kits, income-generation programmes and drilling of boreholes for water. There are also awareness campaigns to promote peaceful coexistence between communities, including a community radio station in the town of Dongo.

But these modest programmes may not be enough to ensure the stability of this region. Without the further involvement of local and national authorities, as well as the engagement of development actors UNHCR fears that this remote and underdeveloped region remains vulnerable to further conflict over scarce resources.

Since the launch of the voluntary repatriation operation in May 2012, UNHCR organized 416 riverine convoys from the Republic of Congo to Equateur province. While 119,000 DRC refugees opted for repatriation, about 23,000 chose to stay in the Republic of Congo. The return of the 20,000 DRC refugees from CAR concluded in May this year. An additional 100,000 Congolese had also been displaced inside Equateur province, but most returned home in 2011 when conditions improved.

More than 430,000 Democratic Republic of the Congo citizens are still refugees in neighbouring countries, mainly in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.

DRC's Equateur province is also hosting more than 64,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, who have been arriving in the DRC since December 2012, with new arrivals registered every week.

By Céline Schmitt in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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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

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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.

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