The head of the United Nations refugee agency met today with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to discuss the impending return of more than 300,000 Congolese refugees and the care of displaced people and other asylum seekers in the vast central African nation.
Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), concluded a two-day visit to the DRC after meeting with President Kabila in Kinshasa. This was the first stop in what was initially a four-nation mission to Africa's Great Lakes region and Angola, but due to the horrific bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Mr. Lubbers will now travel only to Angola before returning to the agency's headquarters in Geneva on Sunday.
While in Kinshasa, the High Commissioner commended President Kabila for the positive political developments that led to the installation of a power-sharing transitional government last month, and a return to peace in some parts of the DRC. As a result of these significant political strides, Mr. Lubbers said UNHCR was on the verge of concluding a plan for the voluntary repatriation of more than 300,000 Congolese refugees in surrounding countries.
"The time has come to take action. We are very near to concluding a repatriation plan for your people," Mr. Lubbers said, referring to the hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees mainly in Tanzania, Zambia and the Republic of Congo.
One of the first organized return movements of Congolese refugees is expected in the coming weeks from the Central African Republic (CAR), where 1,300 Congolese have registered to return home from Molangue camp, some 80 kilometres from the CAR capital, Bangui.
The UNHCR chief ended his Congo mission this afternoon and flew to the Angolan capital, Luanda. He was expected to meet with President Jose dos Santos upon his arrival. On Friday, the High Commissioner is scheduled to meet with several Angolan government ministers and civil society representatives.