Repatriation of Congolese refugees from Central African Republic ends
A three-year-long organised repatriation of Congolese refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ended this weekend with a final convoy of 131 returnees leaving the CAR capital Bangui. In total, 4,994 Congolese refugees have returned home from CAR.
Returns to DRC started from CAR in October 2004, but the operation was repeatedly interrupted for security concerns, weather, conditions in areas of return - the last break was during the 2006 DRC presidential and parliamentary elections.
CAR is the second of nine countries neighbouring DRC which have wrapped up the repatriation of Congolese refugees, following Sudan earlier in the year.
Since the start of the Congolese repatriation in 2004, some 135,000 Congolese refugees have returned home from surrounding countries - 43,000 of them since the beginning of this year. As many as 312,000 Congolese refugees remain in neighbouring countries - mainly in Tanzania, Zambia and Rwanda.
The DRC suffered decades of instability and four years of civil war between 1998 and 2002, during which an estimated 4 million people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands fled the violence.
Congolese refugees in CAR mainly lived in Bangui and in the Molangue settlement, some 120km south-west of the capital. They were repatriated by ferries and trucks, across the Oubangui River which separates the two countries. Most of the Congolese refugees who had fled to CAR during the late 1990s and 2001-2002 originate from Equateur province in north-western DRC. Back in their villages, they have had to rebuild their lives in a region which lacks most basic services and infrastructure, including schools, health centres and, in some places roads.
After the end of the repatriation, some 1,800 Congolese refugees remain in CAR. Many have established family ties and will likely try to stay. In support of this process we have already started the handover of a school, a health centre and other facilities to the government in the Molangue settlement.
With the recent arrival of 2,700 refugees from Darfur, there are now some 9,000 refugees living in CAR, while 80,000 Central Africans have fled conflict-affected areas in the country's north to neighbouring countries. An estimated 220,000 civilians are displaced within CAR.