25,000th Congolese repatriated from Tanzania, announces UN refugee agency
When she stepped off a ferry last Friday in the eastern port of Baraka in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Elizabeth Ibengo became the 25,000th refugee to be repatriated from Tanzania since the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began a return programme in October 2005.
Ms. Ibengo, 24, was one of almost 500 refugees who took the eight-hour boat ride across Lake Tanganyika and then transported to their home regions 130 kilometres away from Baraka this weekend.
Accompanied by her two-year-old son, Ms. Ibengo, who was forced to flee the fighting in her home village in South Kivu province a decade ago, will rejoin her husband who returned last year to build a family home.
After years of violence – the brutal civil war which ended in 1999 cost 4 million lives – much of the infrastructure in South Kivu province, which played host to a great deal of the fighting, is in a state of disarray, compounding the challenges posed to newly-repatriated Congolese.
To this end, UNHCR is working to improve the livelihoods of returnees through activities to bolster their incomes, micro-credit schemes and rebuilding public services.
One such returnee who has benefited greatly from the agency’s programmes is Monisha Naboska, who returned to South Kivu from Tanzania.
“I brought enough cash with me to establish a restaurant, but I needed more help to get it started,” she said.
However, with a loan from ACTED, a French non-governmental organization (NGO) and UNCHR partner, Ms. Naboska and five partners found success when they opened the restaurant. She can now afford to feed her children and send them to school.
Over 2,000 refugees returned to the DRC from Tanzania this year. Voluntary repatriations of refugees first began from the Central African Republic (CAR) in October 2004, and then in April 2004 from the Republic of the Congo. To date, almost 90,000 refugees have returned to the DRC, and almost half of them have received UNHCR assistance. However, more than 400,000 Congolese still reside outside the country’s borders.