UNHCR launches voluntary repatriation for Congolese refugees in Zambia
Yesterday, (Thursday), we launched a three-year voluntary repatriation programme to help Congolese refugees in Zambia return home to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We plan for up to 20,000 of the 61,000 Congolese in Zambia to return in 2007.
The initial convoy, carrying 414 refugees, drove 400 kilometres from Mwange Refugee Camp in the north of Zambia to the Zambian port of Mpulungu where they overnighted. This evening, the refugees are scheduled to board the chartered ferry MV Liemba, and sail some 380 kilometres along Lake Tanganyika to dock at Kalemie in the Congo's Katanga province on Saturday morning.
The repatriation is being organised with the governments and the International Organization for Migration. The ferry is scheduled to run on weekly basis. Once the dry season allows heavy vehicles to pass roads without difficulty, additional road convoys will enable more refugees to return home.
While the decision to repatriate is voluntary, UNHCR considers that conditions in many areas of DRC are now suitable for the return of refugees. The convoys from Zambia will transport refugees to areas that meet rules set by UNHCR - they must be accessible by road, landmines must be cleared and basic services - including schools, health clinics and potable water - must be available. In areas of DRC not yet suitable for repatriation, UNHCR is working with the government and other partners to prepare them for returns.
Returnees will spend the first days back in the DRC in a reception centre where they will get mine awareness training, HIV/AIDS information and any necessary medical assistance. Before leaving for their home areas, refugees are given food rations, blankets, soap, kitchen items, buckets and a construction kit to assist in rebuilding homes. Later in the year, they will get seeds and farming tools to help them become self-sufficient.
In Zambia, there are 43,854 Congolese refugees in the camps of Mwange and Kala in the far north of the country, Meheba and Mayukwayukwa in the west and north-west, and 2,113 in urban areas. The rest have settled outside the camps.
In addition to Congolese refugees, Zambia currently hosts about 40,000 Angolans who did not repatriate before the end of the Angolan repatriation programme, and nearly 17,000 refugees of other nationalities.
Since 2004, some 103,000 Congolese refugees have returned home, but nearly 340,000 remain in neighbouring countries. Some 300 Congolese refugees in Mozambique have also asked UNHCR to help them go back home and are expected to depart over the next two months.