Trial run for Tanzania/DRC repatriation
We are gearing up to start a major new repatriation operation in Africa that could help up to 150,000 Congolese refugees in Tanzania return home to their war-battered country. In a trial run on Wednesday, a test convoy brought back 282 refugees to their homes in South Kivu, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The first convoy left the camps of Nyarugusu and Lugufu in western Tanzania on Wednesday morning, heading for the port of Kigoma on the banks of Lake Tanganyika. In Kigoma, the refugees boarded the MV Mwongozo, chartered by UNHCR to ferry them across the lake to DRC. The ship left Tanzania on Wednesday evening and reached the Congolese port of Baraka at seven the following morning.
The returnees were met on arrival by our teams, then registered at the Baraka transit centre, where they stayed overnight before being helped back to their villages of origin. During their stay at the transit centre, the refugees underwent training in mine and HIV/AIDS awareness. Upon arrival in their villages, they will receive a repatriation package including mattresses and kitchen sets, as well as farming and building tools.
This first convoy from Tanzania to eastern DRC was not without its share of logistical challenges. The road to Kigoma was blocked on Wednesday, leading to a three-hour delay in reaching the port. Lake Tanganyika's water level is exceptionally low at the moment, so we needed to charter a second, shallower boat to ferry the refugees from the port to the MV Mwongozo. In order to iron out these difficulties, another two trial runs are scheduled before the official launch of the repatriation in the first week of November. A second trial convoy is due to leave the Tanzanian camps next Wednesday.
The start of our voluntary repatriation to eastern DRC is a major development for our work in the region. There are more than 150,000 Congolese refugees in Tanzania who fled the violence in South and North Kivu in the past few years. Since last year, more than 15,000 people have already returned to the Kivus from Tanzania by their own means. The decision to start facilitating repatriation was reached at a Tripartite meeting between UNHCR, Tanzania and DRC in September, this year.