Voluntary repatriation of Congolese hits 50,000 mark
KIGOMA, Tanzania, January 30 (UNHCR) - The number of Congolese refugees repatriated from Tanzania with UNHCR help has passed the 50,000 mark. The milestone was reached on Tuesday when the chartered ferry, MV Mwongozo, left the port of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika with 184 returnees on board.
Kengeta Kiza was officially designated the 50,000th Congolese refugee repatriated by the UN refugee agency since October 2005, when UNHCR launched the voluntary programme.
Travelling with her six children and her elderly mother, the 26-year-old Kiza was headed for the town of Dine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's South Kivu province after 10 years in Tanzania's Lugufu camp.
The refugees boarded the MV Mwongozo after a three-hour road journey from Lugufu. The lake crossing to Baraka was expected to take about nine hours.
"It's both a happy and a sad occasion," said UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Judy Cheng-Hopkins, who was a guest of honour at the colourful send-off ceremony. "It is wonderful that we can help them to return in safety and dignity, but they will face many challenges upon return," she added, as Congolese dancers performed nearby and others sang about peace and hope.
The returnees will receive assistance packages once they are in South Kivu, including household items, plastic sheeting, buckets, jerry cans, mosquito nets, agricultural tools and food rations for three months.
Besides assisting the refugees with transport and a basic assistance package, UNHCR has been involved in reconstruction work, promotion of income-generating activities and repairing infrastructure, including health clinics and schools, in a bid to ease the reintegration of the returnees.
Despite the uncertain future, Kiza was upbeat about going home. "I want to start a business selling fish as soon as possible," she said, adding: "I want my kids to grow up healthy and to provide them with a good education."
She recognized that it would be a big challenge, but noted that she had a brother and other family waiting for her in DRC. "I am thankful to UNHCR that I can return in a safe manner," she said.
There are currently almost 100,000 registered Congolese refugees in Lugufu and Nyarugusu camps in north-western Tanzania. Others live outside the camps. In all, there are still more than 400,000 Congolese refugees in various countries of asylum.
By Marjolijn Luchtmeijer in Kigoma, Tanzania