The United Nations refugee agency is encouraging the remaining 51,000 Congolese refugees in northern Zambia to return home, saying conditions in many areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are suitable for repatriation.
While the decision to repatriate is voluntary, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that many towns and villages are accessible by road and former combat zones have been cleared of landmines.
The agency is offering security to returning refugees as well as basic services, including schools, health clinics and potable water.
“We encourage you to seriously consider voluntary repatriation while assistance is still available,” UNHCR Representative in Zambia, James Lynch, told refugees in Kwala and Mwange refugee camps, more than 1,000 kilometres from the capital Lusaka.
“We’ll assist those that want to go back,” he added, referring to the food, farming tools and housing materials given to returnees.
In recent weeks, UNHCR has embarked on a campaign to promote repatriation by disseminating information by radio and going door-to-door in the two camps. Combined with the impact of “come-and-tell” visits from the DRC, the effect has been positive, with a growing number of refugees expressing interest in returning home to Katanga province in the south.
During the first week in October, UNHCR will organize “go-and-see” visits for refugees to explore the areas of the DRC they fled during the civil war that ended earlier this decade.
Since voluntary repatriation began last year, 13,284 Congolese have gone home from Zambia, and UNHCR plans to help 30,000 more return in the next year.
Zambia currently hosts about 87,000 refugees, and around 57,000 live in four camps in Western, North Western, Northern and Luapula provinces, with another 30,000 living outside the camps. Congolese make up the majority of refugees, followed by Angolans, and smaller numbers from Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia.