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UNHCR helps Congolese return home by air from Central African Republic

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UNHCR helps Congolese return home by air from Central African Republic

3 August 2015

Geneva/Bangui/Kinshasa, 3 August 2015

The UN refugee agency has today launched an airlift to repatriate more than 600 refugees to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) six years after they fled to Central African Republic (CAR) to escape attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

A first group of 39 Congolese refugees boarded a Dash-8 aircraft in Zemio, south-east CAR and flew to Ango in a remote area of Orientale province in northern DRC. Over the next three weeks, UNHCR plans to repatriate a total of 628 refugees on 12 chartered flights, including the one on Monday. The numbers could change.

All of the returnees had said they wished to leave UNHCR-run Zemio and return to their homes in the Ango area because of concerns about the volatile security situation in the Central African Republic.

UNHCR has worked with the governments of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to facilitate the voluntary repatriation to Ango, where the LRA still has a presence but the governments believe the situation is stable enough to allow for return. The refugees were fully informed about the security situation in return areas before they made a final decision to go back.

Some 5,000 Congolese fled LRA attacks and atrocities between 2008 and 2009 in the Ango and Obo border areas and fled to CAR. The feared Ugandan rebel group robbed villagers, looted property, torched homes, kidnapped people, raped women and girls and used the young as child soldiers and sex slaves.

Most found shelter in Zemio, a camp run by UNHCR and now hosting 3,499 refugees, including those who will be going home with the airlift programme. Since the latest wave of instability began rocking CAR in 2012, at least 2,800 Congolese refugees have made their way home from Zemio and other parts of CAR.

UNHCR, meanwhile, is looking for durable solutions for those opting not to return to the DRC. Funding shortages could affect the level of aid at Zemio, which is in a volatile area and difficult to access.

The lack of roads makes overland repatriation impossible and the airstrip at Ango has been rehabilitated and extended. On arrival, each returnee will be given US$60 to cover the cost of travel to their villages along dirt tracks on motorbikes, bicycles or foot. UNHCR is also providing a repatriation grant of US$150 per adult and US$100 per child. The World Food Programme will give out cash vouchers for food.

The refugees will be returning to an area where the weakened LRA has launched sporadic attacks in past months. The last reported incident was in late July. But the government in Kinshasa has reviewed the security situation and given the green light for the return operation.

The LRA appeared in Uganda in 1986, established its first base in Sudan in 1993, and spread to the DRC in 2005, before moving further north into the Central African Republic in 2009. Chased by the Ugandan armed forces, remaining LRA rebels have retreated into the forests in south-eastern Central African Republic. It continues to spread terror in the region.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported an increase in LRA attacks and abductions in both the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014. More than 180,000 people remain internally displaced in LRA-affected areas in the CAR and the DRC, while LRA violence caused more than 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.

For more information, please contact:

  • In Kinshasa, David Nthengwe on mobile +243 81 700 9484
  • In Bangui, Dalia Al Achi on mobile +236 726 75186 or +236 753 6262
  • In Geneva, Leo Dobbs on mobile +41 79 883 6347