UN refugee agency signs agreement for return of Congolese refugees from Zambia

UN refugee agency signs agreement for return of Congolese refugees from Zambia

Congolese refugee children in Zambia
The governments of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have signed a tripartite agreement with the United Nations refuge agency that paves the way for the voluntary return home of 60,000 Congolese.

“The time for the refugees to go back home and help in the reconstruction has come,” DRC delegation chief Johnson Baelongandi Binana told yesterday’s meeting in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, thanking Zambia for hosting tens of thousands of Congolese who had fled years of civil war and turmoil in their homeland.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in the DRC Eusebe Hounsokou said his agency was setting up new offices in Moba and Pweto, in southern DRC’s Katanga province and transit centres were also being prepared in Katanga, where most Congolese refugees in Zambia come from.

Security has improved considerably in Katanga this year and thousands of internally displaced people have returned to their homes. At the same time, more than 10,000 refugees returned to Katanga from Zambia by their own means.

Delegates at the meeting hailed moves in the DRC towards peace, including the recent presidential election won by Joseph Kabila, but all sides noted the challenges ahead. The UNHCR delegation said returnees would find little infrastructure in terms of primary health care, education and access to potable water.

Surveys indicate that some 35,000 of the 60,000 Congolese refugees in Zambian camps want to go home as soon as possible. UNHCR has set a target of 20,000 assisted returns for 2007.

More than 80,000 Congolese refugees have repatriated since early last year, of whom some 38,000 were assisted by UNHCR. More than 410,000 Congolese refugees remain overseas, mainly in neighbouring countries. UNHCR and DRC have signed similar repatriation agreements with the Central African Republic (CAR), Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Sudan over the past two years.