UNHCR prepares to help Congolese refugees return from Zambia
KALA CAMP, Zambia, January 24 (UNHCR) - After a successful election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Congolese refugees in Zambia have expressed optimism about peace prevailing and are looking forward to the UN refugee agency launching a voluntary repatriation programme when the current rainy season ends.
"We want to go back because there is peace in our country," said Musanda-wa-Musanda, a shopkeeper in Zambia's Kala Camp who had fled from Moba in the neighbouring DRC. "We are aware that there will be hardships back home, but we are ready to go back. We thank Zambians for keeping us."
Following the presidential election in DRC last year, the governments of Zambia and the DRC on November 28 signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR that paved the way for planning the voluntary return of up to 40,000 Congolese refugees in the next two years. To this end, UNHCR carried out a survey in Zambia's refugee camps in mid-December.
UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Bart Leerschool said the agency was set to begin the repatriation of Congolese from April 1. "We are closely working with our UNHCR colleagues in DRC in order to start the repatriation of Congolese as planned," he added.
Zambia hosts some 60,000 Congolese refugees, about 40,000 of them in the camps of Mwange and Kala in the far north of the country and the rest settled among Zambians. The country also hosts some 42,000 Angolans.
The next tripartite meeting between Zambia, the DRC and UNHCR will be held in February in Kinshasa. A technical working group comprising representatives from the refugee agency and the two governments met this week in Zambia's Kawambwa district to look at how to implement the repatriation.
"We hope the DRC will continue stabilising for refugees to go back home and help with reconstruction there," said Wilbroad Mumba, the government's district commissioner in Kawambwa.
Fifty-year-old Kalombe Pabo, a water engineer in Kala camp, said he would ensure that he was on the first convoy back to the DRC once organised voluntary repatriation starts.
Life in the camps, which have full facilities such as clinics and schools, is busy. In the bustling market, traders continue business and farmers are busy harvesting crops ranging from maize to sweet potatoes and cassava tubers. Students in the primary and secondary schools attend classes given in French, the language they will speak when they return to DRC.
"Many of us refugees here in Kala want to go back as soon as UNHCR starts the repatriation exercise. As for me, my wife and two children, we intend to move in August as soon as I clear my shop," said 30 year-old Macadan Mwenge, a pharmacist and chemist shop owner at Kala's main market.
Mwenge, who arrived at Kala in 2000 from Moba in the DRC, said the improving situation in his homeland - after many years of war and unrest - had instilled the confidence that Congolese refugees needed to contemplate repatriation.
By Kelvin Shimo in Kala Camp, Zambia