Angolan refugees in DR of Congo sign-up for UN repatriation initiative

Angolan refugees in DR of Congo sign-up for UN repatriation initiative

Angolan refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are moving a step closer to their homeland, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun registering and signing them up for a voluntary repatriation exercise set to begin next month.

In collaboration with the DRC Government, UNHCR said yesterday it is tallying the total refugee population, making lists of those who want to go home over the next two years, and issuing identity cards to those who wish to remain for now.

"This is important not only for the Angolan refugees who want to go home, it is also for better protection for those who remain," said UNHCR Registration Officer Yvan Serge Kragbe, who is leading the exercise. "If they have ID cards, the police and everyone know they are refugees, and sometimes the ID card allows them to work because it's like a residence permit, it confirms their legal status."

UNHCR said the registration exercise, which kicked-off in two refugee camps - Nkondo and Kilueka - in the eastern province of Bas Congo, would extend to camps in the Katanga province, followed by the capital, Kinshasa, and other towns and villages.

While the majority of the refugees are looking forward to the possibility of going back home after 27 years, some have qualms about being on the first convoy back to Angola.

"If UNHCR is disposed to take us home in an orderly manner, we want to go home," said Handa, adding, "I don't know the reality of my village so I don't know whether it will be easy or hard to go home. But I don't think it will be easy."

Workers at Kilueka refugee camp are making preparations for the movement of large numbers of refugees, UNHCR said. The reception centre that welcomed the refugees when they arrived at this camp in 1999 is being rehabilitated to serve as a departure hall.

Under a tripartite agreement signed between the DRC, Angola and UNHCR last December, the voluntary repatriation of some of the 170,000 Angolan refugees in the DRC is to begin on 20 June and run for two years. Up until last year, an estimated 450,000 Angolan refugees lived in countries bordering Angola, with another 50,000 scattered across the world. Some 130,000 of them have returned since the civil war ended in April last year.