The United Nations refugee agency is preparing to launch the repatriation of 432,000 people who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during a bitter war, and has arranged for a pioneering group of nearly 300 to fly to the country.
The excited group of 298 returnees arrived in Kinshasa yesterday after seven years in exile in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR). They were warmly welcomed by Mayor Nku Imbie, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative David Kapya and other UNHCR and Congolese officials.
"We have peace and unity," Mr. Imbie told the returnees. "We are appealing to our compatriots who think that the war is not yet over to return home to help rebuild our nation."
Tuesday's repatriation is the first significant return of Congolese refugees to be organized by UNHCR since the installation of a transitional government in Kinshasa under a peace deal signed in April this year.
More than 1,000 Congolese refugees in CAR have signed up for repatriation, especially to the DRC's Equateur province.
UNHCR must first sign tripartite agreements with the countries hosting the Congolese refugees to outline the legal framework for return and reintegration. The host countries at present are Tanzania with 149,000 refugees, Zambia with 54,000, the Republic of Congo with 85,000 and CAR with 10,000.