UNHCR-assisted refugee returns to DRC from Tanzania top 25,000
BARAKA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, February 26 (UNHCR) - The number of people helped by UNHCR to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from Tanzania has hit the 25,000 mark.
Elizabeth Ibengo was registered as the 25,000th arrival after she stepped off a ferry last Friday at the Lake Tanganyika port of Baraka more than a decade after the 24-year-old fled her home village in South Kivu province to escape conflict in the province. The UNHCR-assisted return programme for Congolese refugees in Tanzania began in October 2005.
Ibengo and her two-year-old son will be joining her husband, who returned last year to build a home for the family. As more and more people opt to return home, the challenges of sustainable reintegration are becoming greater.
Years of war have left infrastructure and services in the province in tatters. UNHCR is looking at ways to help improve the situation and the subject was the focus last week in Kinshasa of a Great Lakes repatriation planning meeting.
"With the reduced absorption capacity in the areas of origin, UNHCR faces the challenge of ensuring that return and integration are sustainable," Marie-Christine Bocoum, Geneva-based deputy director of UNHCR's Africa desk, told the meeting.
Despite the reduced absorption capacity and logistics problems, the UN refugee agency and its partners continue to implement significant improvements in return areas for Congolese returnees like Elizabeth.
These include rehabilitation of public services in areas with high return numbers, as well as support for micro-credit schemes and income-generating activities, which are helping hundreds of people directly and more indirectly.
Monisha Nabosoka is among those taking part in a micro-credit programme managed by a UNHCR non-governmental organisation partner - ACTED of France - in South Kivu province. "I brought enough cash with me to establish a restaurant, but I needed more help to get it started," she said.
With the help of a loan from ACTED, she and five partners set up the eatery, which has been a success. Nabosoka now has enough disposable income to feed her children and send them to school. She hopes the success of the venture will inspire refugees still in Tanzania to return home.
More than 2,130 Congolese have returned to DRC from Tanzania so far this year with UNHCR help and a total 25,361 since the programme started. As of the end of January, there were almost 410,000 Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries.
By Lia Yip in Baraka
and David Nthengwe in Kinshasa, DRC