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Democratic Republic of the Congo - IDP returns to Katanga

Briefing notes

Democratic Republic of the Congo - IDP returns to Katanga

25 July 2006

A joint UN interagency assessment mission which visited eastern Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 12 and 14 July has found that in the Sampwe area, about 80 percent (some 2,200 families) of people internally displaced by violence over the last year have spontaneously returned to their villages of origin in recent weeks. Returnees said they were going home because they wanted to get their fields prepared ahead of the rainy season starting in October. Food supplies are chronically short in the region and missing the planting season would have a disastrous effect in areas of displacement and return.

The mission team talked to returnees, local officials and non-governmental sector and learned that displaced people may be returning home in other regions of Katanga province as well. An estimated 170,000 people (from Katanga) are displaced within Katanga province. Following the recent surrender of Mai Mai militia leader, the violence has significantly subsided in the province.

The returnees from Sampwe returned to a scene of devastation, with over 80 percent of the housing and infrastructure of their villages burned or destroyed. The previous harvest had been destroyed or looted by militia groups. The assessment mission visited a number of return communities and identified the priority needs for returnees as shelter, basic household items, clothing, food rations, seeds and tools. The returnees need assistance before the rainy season to prevent extreme hardship. UNHCR plans to distribute return packages and shelter construction kits to returnees with partner agencies helping with assistance for other needs.

While the return movement is encouraging, the risk of destabilisation in the return areas in Katanga remains high. Main concerns are continued reports of human rights violations committed by militia groups and government soldiers, although their frequency has dropped notably. There are 1.6 million displaced persons in DRC. We are hoping that more IDPs will feel safe to return to their homes following the presidential and legislative elections which are scheduled to take place this coming Sunday.