UNHCR helps more than 100,000 refugees return to northern Democratic Republic of Congo

Making a Difference, 3 September 2013

© UNHCR/S.Lubuku
UNHCR staff help refugee returnees coming off the boat at Buburu in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province.

BUBURU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 3 (UNHCR) Boats carrying more than 350 refugees crossed the Oubangui River to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday, bringing the total number repatriated from Republic of Congo under a UNHCR programme to more than 100,000.

Anuarite Malanga, aged 31, was identified in return lists as the 100,000th person to return home with the assistance of UNHCR, which launched the programme in May last year for villagers displaced in 2009-2010 by ethnic violence linked to fishing and farming rights. The mother, who returned with her two sons and a niece, fled her home in November 2009 after her brother-in-law a fisherman was killed.

Anuarite and her relatives were among 361 refugees on Tuesday morning's return convoy, which left Impfondo in the Republic of Congo's Likouala Department and took just over an hour to reach Buburu in northern DRC's Equateur province, where the refugees were transferred to a UNHCR-run transit centre after a warm welcome.

They each received a hot meal before proceeding for registration, administrative formalities and medical screening. Those living in areas close to Buburu will return to their homes today. The rest will spend the night at the transit centre and be taken to their villages of origin from tomorrow.

UNHCR gives returnees a repatriation package, including a cash grant, to help them rebuild their lives. The refugee agency and its partners have also been implementing community-based reintegration projects in areas of return, including construction or rehabilitation of schools, health centres and wells.

The inter-ethnic clashes in late 2009 and early 2010 forced more than 131,000 people to flee across the Oubangui to the Republic of Congo and 20,000 to the Central African Republic. Last year, when the voluntary repatriation programme was launched, more than 46,300 individuals returned home. So far this year, more than 53,700 have gone back.

"More than 10,000 more have expressed their wish to go back home this year," said UNHCR spokeswoman CĂ©line Schmitt, while adding that this would leave more than 20,000 refugees in Republic of the Congo. These people have not decided what to do.

Refugees are going back from Betou, Impfondo and Loukolela in the Republic of Congo to the areas of Dongo, Libenge, Mbandaka and Buburu in Equateur province.

UNHCR also supports reintegration projects that promote peace. It works with Search for Common Ground to promote peaceful cohabitation and reconciliation between the Enyele and Munzayas tribes.

"The refugee agency is also encouraging the international community to support development projects to help prevent problems in the future and to bring relative prosperity to the region," said Stefano Severe, UNHCR's regional representative, while urging development organizations to come to the region and work with humanitarian agencies with this aim in mind.

Anuarite, meanwhile, said she was happy to be going back home and looked forward to a reunion with her relatives. She said she would resume her studies to become a teacher.

By Simon Lubuku in Buburu, Democratic Republic of the Congo