Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Displaced Congolese return to Ituri with UNHCR help


Displaced Congolese return to Ituri with UNHCR help

UNHCR begins an operation to take hundreds of internally displaced Congolese back to their homes in the north-east province of Ituri by the end of this year.
14 November 2007
Displaced people in Beni wave goodbye to friends who are heading back to Ituri with UNHCR help.

BENI, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has begun an operation to take hundreds of internally displaced Congolese back to their homes in the north-east province of Ituri from volatile North Kivu province by the end of this year.

A UNHCR-organized convoy took back a first group of 210 people on Monday from Beni in North Kivu along bush tracks to Komanda, about 125 kilometres away in Ituri. A second convoy carrying 216 returnees left Beni for Ituri early on Wednesday. This is UNHCR's first such assisted return operation for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A further two convoys a week between now and mid-December are planned, returning an estimated 2,400 IDPs to their home areas in Ituri. The organization of further return movements will depend on demand.

Pakombe Malonde was delighted to be heading home. "Bye-bye friends. We came here on foot, today we return home on vehicles," the 53-year-old sang in her Swahili tongue.

"The UNHCR Beni to Ituri IDP return programme is the latest component in the struggle against displacement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)," said Eusebe Hounsokou, the UN refugee agency's regional representative. "Assisting IDPs return to their communities is the best thing one can offer them," he added.

Since 2003, some 40,000 IDPs from Ituri have been living in camps or with host families in the Beni area. Many were displaced during divisive wars that tore through DRC between 1996 and 2002, while thousands more left their homes when inter-ethnic clashes erupted in 2003 all over Ituri.

Security conditions in Ituri have improved recently and thousands of IDPs have gone home spontaneously. But Sani Chaibou, a UNHCR field officer, said UN forces would conduct patrols in return zones.

Those who returned home on Monday were given non-food items by UNHCR, including jerry cans, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, mats and blankets as well as a food rations for a month from the World Food Programme.

Returnee families will also be given seeds and agricultural tools to help them to live off the land and become self-sufficient. Some of those returning home on the first convoy were worried about their land after several years of absence.

But more and more people seem to be ready to return. "If you have transport, take me home right away," a 29-year-old single mother told UNHCR near Mbimbi days before the return operation got under way.

Some, however, remain traumatized by their flight and the terrible things they saw. "When we escaped, our homes, schools and health facilities were attacked and looted," recalled 52-year-old Meke Makapela, a representative for IDPs in settlements near Beni.

Others like Marie Tebani, a mother of five, have taken measures to ease their return. "My husband left two weeks ago to keep illegal settlers off our property. He is also preparing the fields for planting," she said at a UNHCR registration centre for returnees in Beni district's Eringeti town.

Many host communities in North Kivu are also keen to see the IDPs return. "People are asking us to go back. We have caused a strain on water, food and land resources," said one IDP.

By David Nthengwe in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo