Tripartite agreements with the DRC clear way for Sudanese and Congolese refugees to go home
KINSHASA, Jan 31 (UNHCR) - Sudanese refugees living in camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can finally see light at the end of the tunnel after many years of exile.
The UN refugee agency on Monday signed two tripartite agreements with the DRC and Sudan - one establishing the legal framework for the voluntary return of 13,300 Sudanese refugees in the DRC and the second setting the framework for the return of 6,800 Congolese refugees now in Sudan. UNHCR plans to begin refugee return operations under the agreements in March.
The agreements signed in Kinshasa come more than a year after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended 21 years of civil war in south Sudan, was signed in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 9, 2005.
"This tripartite ceremony is a special occasion as two agreements are simultaneously concluded," said Jean-Marie Fakhouri, UNHCR's Director of Operations for the Sudan situation.
Most of the 13,300 Sudanese refugees still in the DRC fled southern Sudan between 1994 and 1996. The majority live in UNHCR-run refugee camps such as Aba, Dungu and Doruma, where the refugee agency and its partner Oxfam-Quebec provide humanitarian assistance.
Some refugees in the DRC are already preparing for repatriation by selling off extra belongings to meet the weight restrictions that will be necessary for their flights home.
As for the 6,800 Congolese refugees in Sudan, most are currently living in Juba, the new capital of south Sudan, as well as in Ezo and Yambio in Western Equatoria, and in Khartoum.
They fled the DRC - then Zaire - between 1965 and 1968 to escape the volatile security situation in the post-independence period, as well as the coup that brought Mobutu Sese Seko to power. Their areas of origin in the DRC include Oriental and Equateur provinces, especially the Kisangani area, Buta district and Doruma.
"Although many of the Congolese were born in Sudan and are well integrated into Sudanese society, they express a strong desire and determination to return to their homeland," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said on Tuesday. "Older Congolese refugees, some of whom have spent four decades in exile in Sudan, say they want to live out the remainder of their lives in their own country."
That repatriation will take place by air, and will start with Congolese refugees originating from the Kisangani area.
Monday's tripartite agreements follow one that was concluded January 12 in Nairobi between Kenya, Sudan and UNHCR which cleared the way for thousands of Sudanese refugees to be repatriated from Kenya.
A fourth tripartite agreement is to be signed on Wednesday between the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and UNHCR. The first repatriation movement from CAR is scheduled for later this week from Mboki camp in south-eastern CAR to Tambura, in south-western Sudan.
More than 500,000 Sudanese refugees are still in exile in neighbouring countries, while more than 4 million southern Sudanese are displaced within Sudan itself. However, thousands of south Sudanese have spontaneously returned since the signature of the CPA last year.
By Jens Hesemann in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo