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Repatriation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Congo Brazzaville

Briefing notes

Repatriation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Congo Brazzaville

11 May 1999

UNHCR will today run a fifth repatriation train from Mbanza-Ngungu, 125 km south-west of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the capital, the first step homeward for thousands of refugees who fled Congo-Brazzaville during the past months.

Almost 3,700 refugees have been brought so far by train from the Bas-Congo, where they crossed into the DRC from Congo-Brazzaville, to Kinshasa. From there they are taken by boat to Brazzaville. 1,000 are scheduled to move today.

UNHCR began the return operation on 29 April, after signing a Tripartite accord with the two governments for the voluntary return of Congolese refugees to Brazzaville. More than 20,000 began crossing last November when fighting between the army and militias supporting the ex-President broke out in and around the capital. Despite continuing insecurity, many Congolese have elected to return.

The return operation is a logistical challenge. Trains linking Kinshasa and Mbanza-Ngungu are not able to reach the communities where most of the refugees have sheltered, and smaller lines have to be used to ferry groups out of the forest to the rail head. Travel by road is exceedingly difficult during the current rainy season.

Despite the construction of a refugee camp at Luozi, UNHCR staff in Bas-Congo report that there are still hundreds of refugees emerging from the forest for transport home. Many of these have been living in precarious situations without adequate food or medical care. UNHCR has reinforced the transit points with medical staff and additional supplies.