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Central African Republic: repatriation call relayed in Zongo

Briefing notes

Central African Republic: repatriation call relayed in Zongo

4 December 2001

Central African refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) town of Zongo yesterday received a visit by a group of about 20 Central African Republic (CAR) officials relaying calls made over the weekend by CAR President Ange-Félix Patassé for all civilian refugees in the DRC to repatriate to Bangui.

The general impression among refugee representatives at the meeting was that it was premature to consider an immediate return. Refugees said that some preconditions had first to be met before they would consider returning to Bangui. These conditions included the rehabilitation of their houses, which were destroyed or damaged during violence that followed an attempted coup in May and June; the payment of salary arrears, since most of the refugees are civil servants; the arrest and judgement of looters; and a guarantee for the refugees' safety once they are back home. At this stage, they said, none of these preconditions were met.

According to UNHCR protection standards, any repatriation movement has to be done on a voluntary basis only. Furthermore, such movement would need to be organised within a legal framework involving the governments of the countries of asylum and origin, as well as UNHCR. Such a framework should include security guarantees for the returnees and a monitoring capability for UNHCR to supervise the first months of reintegration in their country of origin.

In the meantime, UNHCR is still planning to move the refugees to a new site in Mole, 45 km south of Zongo, in the coming days. A total of 23,000 Central African refugees are in Zongo following last May's troubles in the Central African Republic. The new camp at Mole will have an initial capacity of 10,000 people. Work on the new site is well advanced, with five transit hangars built, the drilling of wells underway, four classrooms ready and the road useable. Pending good security conditions, the transfer could begin in the near future. Refugees will receive a plot of land as well as wood and nails to build their own shelters.