The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced today that the voluntary repatriation of up to 40,000 Congolese from neighbouring Zambia will begin at the start of April after the end of the current rainy season.
The mass return of refugees to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been made possible by an agreement signed by the two countries and UNHCR in November, following the successful staging of historic national elections last year.
They were the first free and fair polls in the vast African country in more than 40 years, and marked a serious step forward after years of dictatorship, misrule and civil war.
The technical details of the repatriation programme will be worked out at a meeting involving Zambia, the DRC and UNHCR next month in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.
Zambia is currently host to about 60,000 Congolese refugees, with two out of three located in camps in the far north of the country near the mutual border. Zambia is also host to some 42,000 Angolan refugees.
More than 80,000 refugees have been repatriated to the DRC since early 2005, according to UNHCR, which has assisted in almost half of those returns. An estimated 410,000 Congolese refugees are scattered outside the country.