In what it called one of its most unusual and logistically challenging voluntary repatriations in a region lacking passable roads, the United Nations refugee agency has helped another convoy to get back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) Equateur Province, bringing the number of refugees repatriated there from neighbouring Republic of Congo (RoC) to more than 1,000.
Faced with the lack of roads in the region, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) starts with a convoy of boats, each carrying a maximum of 50 life-jacketed people, along the Oubangui River. The refugees then cross dense rainforest and numerous waterways, then travel along extremely rough roads before, in some cases, finally walking home, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told the Tuesday briefing at the UN complex in Geneva.
"Today our 10th convoy since the operation started on 27 April moved 109 people to the Libenge area of Equateur Province in north-west DRC, bringing to 1,076 the number of refugees to return with our assistance from their asylum in the neighbouring Republic of Congo (ROC)," he said.
Once they disembark, the families are given a three-month supply of food, plus kitchen implements and a shelter kit for a house so they can resume their lives back home.
The 16,000 refugees who arrived in RoC's north-east Betou area from 2000 onwards fled fighting between two DRC rebel groups, Mr. Redmond said. They spread out into 39 sites along a 160-kilometre stretch of river bank and have supported themselves by fishing, farming and foraging in the dense tropical forests.
Once they register to join a repatriation convoy, UNHCR sends boats to collect them from their villages of refuge, he said.
The three-year repatriation of some 58,000 refugees from RoC is among the most difficult the agency has faced anywhere, UNHCR has said.