DRC government urges Congolese refugees to return home
MEHEBA, Zambia, September 12 (UNHCR) - Central and local government officials of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have called directly on Congolese refugees in Zambia to return and help rebuild their homeland.
David Byaza Sanda, secretary general in the DRC ministry of home affairs, made the appeal during a visit to the Meheba settlement in north-west Zambia's Solwezi district on Tuesday by a tripartite commission on the voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees living in this country.
The commission, comprising UNHCR and the governments of the DRC and Zambia, met in Lusaka on Monday and Tuesday to evaluate progress in the repatriation programme. The meeting revised downwards the planned figure for repatriations this year - from 20,000 to 12,000 - citing budget constraints and the fall-out from a security incident in the DRC town of Moba on Lake Tanganyika that suspended returns in August.
Participants visited Meheba to gauge the willingness of refugees to return home and to inform them about conditions in the DRC. Some 4,500 Congolese refugees have returned home from Zambia this year to date.
"The focus of the current government is development and you should come back to help in the reconstruction exercise," Byaza Sanda told the refugees, asking: "Who will rebuild our country if you the owners are outside?"
When some refugees said they were concerned about reports of fighting in the east of the country, Byaza Sanda said that while a few parts of the DRC were affected by insecurity, most of the country was well on the way to peace and stability.
Tau Tshibal, deputy governor of neighbouring Katanga province in DRC, painted a rosy picture about economic opportunities and plans. "In Katanga our focus now is to move the economy forward. We have received a lot of investors, so you should come back and take the jobs," he told the refugees.
Peter Mumba, who chaired the meeting and headed the Zambian delegation, told the refugees that commission members believed conditions were conducive for return. "I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity and consider returning home. It's not good to be a refugee in perpetuity," he said.
UNHCR Representative in Zambia James Lynch, meanwhile, said the agency would do everything possible to scale-up voluntary repatriation and ensure that targets were met. He said repatriations by boat from north-east Zambia to Kalemie port on Lake Tanganyika should resume in late September. "There is enormous interest among the refugees to repatriate."
As of July 30, Zambian camps were sheltering almost 115,000 refugees from several African countries. The figure included an estimated 57,000 Congolese refugees, mainly in Kala and Mwange camps in the north-east.
By Kelvin Shimo in Meheba, Zambia