UNHCR provides return assistance to 6,300 Congolese IDPs in the south
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, October 5 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency handed out aid packages to more than 6,300 people during the first 10 days of an operation to help displaced people who have returned to their homes in remote areas of Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province.
UNHCR's return assistance project, conducted by implementing partner HI-Atlas Logistique, began on September 25 with distributions in three villages located in the Sampwe area, some 350 kilometres north of the provincial capital Lubumbashi.
Almost all of the inhabitants of the villages had fled their homes to escape fighting between central government forces and the Mai Mai tribal militia in the vast province. Most of the more than 6,300 people to receive aid packages were returnees.
"I am happy to see that we are not forgotten," a village chief told the distribution team. It took three days for four UNHCR trucks from Lubumbashi to reach the remote villages in the savannah. But the wet season has begun and heavier rains will likely make much of the region impassable in October.
"The start of this project is a manifestation of UNHCR's commitment to implement our new responsibilities for IDPs [internally displaced people]. For the first time, we are providing return packages to IDP returnees in a geographical area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that does not coincide with refugee returns," said Eusebe Hounsokou, UNHCR's regional representative.
UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies have put a priority on supporting the return home of IDPs in eastern areas of the province. Inter-agency assessments carried out last July revealed that up to 80% of IDPs had returned home by their own means in the previous two months. The number of people in the IDP settlements in the towns of Mitwaba and Dubie has fallen considerably.
The UNHCR return package helps to meet the immediate needs of the internally displaced once they get back to their villages - often to find their homes and possessions have been destroyed. The returnees in Sampwe received kitchen sets, mosquito nets, blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans, cloth and house-building tools. Other UN agencies provide food, seeds and agricultural tools.
The return assistance project in Katanga will continue for several months. There are an estimated 170,000 IDPs in Katanga, but many more are expected to make their way home spontaneously as calm returns following the surrender this May of the most influential warlord, Kyungu Mutanga, also known as Gedeon.
Most were displaced during years of fighting between the army and the Mai Mai, with the most recent exodus taking place between November 2005 and April this year.
The progress of distributions will depend on logistical challenges and the timely procurement of more relief items. UNHCR has a stock of return packages at its depot in the north-west Tanzanian town of Ngara, and plans to send them to Katanga.
Congolese refugees in Zambia have also started returning to Katanga province. More than 17,000 refugees are estimated to have made their way home from the neighbouring country since early last year, while 60,000 Congolese refugees remain in Zambia.
By Jens Hesemann in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo