More than 25,000 refugees return from Republic of Congo since May

Briefing Notes, 2 October 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 2 October 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has helped more than 25,000 Congolese return to their homes in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from neighbouring Republic of Congo under a voluntary repatriation programme that was launched in May.

The 25,000 mark was passed last Friday (the current total of those helped back by UNHCR is 25,696). UNHCR hopes to repatriate a further 24,000 more refugees, mostly from Equateur province, across the Oubangui River to the DRC by the end of this year, plus a further 32,000 next year.

Currently, there are more than 100,000 Congolese refugees still in Republic of Congo. They have been living in isolated areas along the river since fleeing ethnic clashes in Equateur province in 2009.

At the height of the crisis, about 143,000 Congolese fled their villages for safety in neighbouring countries 123,000 in Republic of Congo and 20,000 in the Central African Republic when clashes erupted between the Munzaya and Enyele groups over traditional fishing and farming rights.

An additional 100,000 Congolese were displaced inside Equateur province but most returned home when conditions improved. A few thousand refugees also returned on their own from the Republic of Congo and from Central African Republic.

UNHCR has picked up the pace of returns since July, adding a second weekly convoy to take people across the river and home. Returnees tell UNHCR staff that they believe the security situation has improved while parents say they want to go back to enroll their young children in primary schools.

In addition to an aid package provided to each family on arrival, UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations have initiated reintegration activities, especially in the Libenge and Kungu territories, to help ensure a sustainable return. So far, and with a limited budget, UNHCR and its partners have distributed 700 shelter kits for spontaneous returnees and have also built 350 shelters and 12 wells for the most vulnerable households as well as primary schools. Awareness campaigns aimed at ensuring peaceful co-existence between the various communities have been undertaken.

Equateur is one of the most remote provinces in the country, lacking basic socio-economic structures and infrastructure. UNHCR has appealed for development actors to help strengthen the reintegration activities.

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Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

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In mid-July 2013, thousands of Congolese refugees began pouring over the border from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into Bundibugyo district in western Uganda. They were fleeing fighting triggered when a Ugandan rebel group, the Allied Democratic Forces, attacked the town of Kamango in DRC's troubled North Kivu province. Many stayed in the mountainous border area, but others gravitated to the Bubukwanga Transit Centre deeper inside Uganda. Here, they were provided with protection and aid by the government, UNHCR and its partners. But the transit centre, with a capacity to hold 12,500 people, was soon overcrowded and people were encouraged to move to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement located 280 kilometres to the north in Hoima District. Since the first convoy left Bubukwanga for Kyangwali on August 14, more than 11,000 people have relocated to the settlement, where they have access to more comprehensive and long-term services. Photographer Michele Sibiloni recently visited Bubukwanga and followed a convoy of refugees as they made their way to the Kyangwali settlement.

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UNHCR's 2013 Nansen Refugee Award Winner

Sister Angélique Namaika, a Congolese nun who has shown exceptional courage and unwavering support for survivors of violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been selected as the 2013 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal Ugandan rebel group, has waged a campaign of violence that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people in north-eastern DRC's Orientale province over the past decade. Many Congolese women and girls have been kidnapped and terrorized.

Sister Angélique has been a beacon of hope for these victims, known for her very personal, one-on-one approach to help survivors move beyond their trauma. Many of the people under her care have been forcibly displaced and subjected to sexual violence.

The brutality of the LRA is notorious and the testimonials of the women Sister Angélique has helped are horrific. Adding to their trauma is the fact that many of the victims are stigmatized by society because of their experience. It takes a special person to help them heal and rebuild their lives.

This Year's Nansen Refugee Award winner has spent the past decade helping women, mostly through a combination of income-generation activities, skills development courses, literacy training and psycho-social counselling. She has made a positive difference to the lives of thousands of individuals, their families and communities.

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