UNHCR starts cross-river repatriation of refugees in Republic of Congo

Making a Difference, 8 May 2012

© UNHCR
The repatriation fleet heads down the Oubangui River to Dongo in Equateur province with 79 refugees on board the boats.

GENEVA, May 7 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has launched a repatriation programme for tens of thousands of refugees who want to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from neighbouring Republic of the Congo.

In a low-key start to the operation, a small convoy of boats on Saturday took 79 refugees down the Oubangui River from the town of Betou in Republic of the Congo (ROC) to Dongo in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province. UNHCR and senior officials of the two countries are expected to take part in a formal ceremony later.

A further two convoys carrying almost 620 people are expected to take place today and on Friday, stopping at Dongo, Ikpengbele and Mozombo. UNHCR plans to assist 49,000 refugees return this year from ROC and 32,000 next year. The refugee agency also plans to repatriate Congolese refugees from Central African Republic, but this programme is being developed.

The operation for Republic of Congo will be a major logistical challenge for UNHCR and its partners, with refugees dispersed in remote areas over a wide area.

The refugee returnees on last weekend's convoy were among an estimated 143,000 civilians who fled to neighbouring countries (123,000 to Republic of Congo and 20,000 to Central African Republic) to escape inter-ethnic clashes sparked by fishing and farming disputes in Equateur in late 2009. Those crossing to the Republic of Congo sought shelter in remote settlements on the banks of the Oubangui.

A further 100,000 sought safety in other parts of Equateur, but most went back to their villages as the situation improved. A few thousand have returned from Republic of Congo, but many come over to check their lands on a regular basis.

UNHCR has been helping the returnees, providing shelter kits and constructing more than 200 homes for the vulnerable. It has also been promoting reconciliation between the Enyele and Munzaya communities, who signed a non-aggression pact early last year.

As part of the reconciliation programme, a UNHCR-funded community radio station went on air last October. It can be heard across the river.

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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