Most Congolese refugees in Zambia tell UNHCR they want to go home

News Stories, 11 February 2009

© UNHCR/J.Redden
A Congolese family in Kala Camp. The population has fallen steadily over the past two years.

LUSAKA, Zambia, February 11 (UNHCR) A UNHCR exercise in advance of the resumption of organized voluntary repatriation in May found some 90 percent of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in two camps in northern Zambia are willing to return home.

The verification exercise was conducted late last month by the government of Zambia and UNHCR at the Kala and Mwange refugee camps to learn the exact number of refugees, identify those with special needs, update bio-data and collect information on their intention to return to DRC.

It found 10,583 refugees intend to repatriate this year from Mwange and 8,099 from Kala. In addition, some want to go home next year. Others remain undecided. In view of the interest to repatriate in 2009, UNHCR and the government plan to intensify the information campaign it has been carrying out.

"Our intention is to ensure that we maintain this high interest by the refugees to return to DRC by intensifying the dissemination of information to them on the conditions in the areas of return," said James Lynch, UNHCR representative in Zambia.

Kiros Zewdie, the UNHCR associate registration officer based in Lusaka who coordinated the process, said the survey found lower numbers than previously recorded. He attributed it to refugees returning to DRC without reporting to authorities in the camp, while some could have left the camps for piece-work. There were also some cases of duplication with children appearing on both parents' ration cards.

"After verification, we found that the population of the Kala camp had decreased to 11,971 a difference of 977 persons as our records previously accounted for 12,768 persons," he said. "In Mwange, the population had gone down from 14,429 persons to 12,771, a difference of 1,658."

The exercise sets the stage for the resumption of the assisted voluntary repatriation programme in May after the rainy season. More than 16,000 Congolese refugees have repatriated from Zambia to the DRC in the past two years.

"The verification exercise for Congolese refugees at the Kala and Mwange camps was important for the government and UNHCR to update the database and to plan better for their assistance, protection needs and possible durable solutions, such as voluntary repatriation," said Mr. Lynch.

The verification was conducted simultaneously in Kala and Mwange, with support from the office of the Commissioner for Refugees of the Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as UNHCR's implementing partners.

Zambia hosts more than 83,000 refugees from DRC, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia. While some are accommodated in camps and settlements, others have settled themselves.

By Kelvin Shimo in Lusaka, Zambia