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Half of Central African refugees return from DR Congo

Half of Central African refugees return from DR Congo

More than 1,300 of the over 2,600 Central African refugees who want to go home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have done so in the last few days. If the pace of returns continues, the UNHCR-organised movement could end earlier than planned.
13 June 2003
Central African returnees loading their belongings onto a UNHCR-rented truck that will drop them off in various parts of Bangui.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, June 13 (UNHCR) - Just days after the start of repatriation, more than 1,300 Central African refugees have already headed home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), raising hopes that the operation that could end as soon as this weekend.

The UNHCR-organised return movement has drawn an enthusiastic response so far. Half of the over 2,600 Central African refugees who want to go home from north-western DRC have done so since the operation started on Monday, June 9.

The UN refugee agency had planned to move up to 350 refugees daily in an eight-day operation. But the enthusiastic daily turnout - 500 on Thursday alone - means that the repatriation could be completed by this weekend if the current pace of return continues.

Embarking on their journey home, the refugees are trucked from Mole camp in DRC's Equateur province to the border town of Zongo. From there, they take a short ferry ride across the Oubangui river to the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, where they are transported to various drop-off points in the town.

Many of the returnees are former civil servants and residents of Bangui. This week's repatriation marks the end of a two-year exile for them. They had fled a failed coup in the Central African Republic in May 2001, and been reluctant to return home for fear of persecution. But they are now eager to go back due to a change of government in March and a recent amnesty to those linked with the 2001 coup.

The new mood in Bangui has also encouraged refugees to return from the Republic of Congo. A first group of 57 refugees have already been flown home from Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo. In all, some 300 refugees have registered to return to the Central African Republic on weekly flights.

In general, many of the returnees say they are happy to be home. But some have expressed concern that their homes have been looted of everything. To help them reintegrate, UNHCR is providing a package which consists of kitchen sets, jerry cans, blankets and mats. They will also receive a food package from the UN World Food Programme upon arrival in Bangui.