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UN refugee agency aids 55,000 Congolese returning to Katanga

UN refugee agency aids 55,000 Congolese returning to Katanga

The distribution areas in central Katanga can only be reached by boat
The United Nations refugee agency is distributing supplies to some 55,000 displaced people who have returned to their homes in the southern province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Roger Hollo, a protection officer with the UN High Commissioner for Refguees (UNHCR) in the provincial capital, Lubumbashi, said the initiative is part of the agency's programme of assistance and protection for people displaced in northern and central Katanga.

"Some 11,000 households, or 55,000 people, will benefit," he said after the distribution began in central Katanga's Kilumbe district on Tuesday.

The exercise, expected to take up to three weeks to complete, involves handing out kitchen utensils, blankets, jerry cans, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting, buckets and soap to each returnee family. The refugee agency and a local partner will also distribute string, nails and hammers to help the former internally displaced people (IDP) construct homes.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) are also assisting the group.

"I am very happy and grateful for this gesture. I was lost, I had nothing left," said an old woman, who, like others at the distribution, fled her home three years ago to escape fighting between government forces and the Mai-Mai militia.

This final distribution of food and supplies is being conducted in three isolated villages close to the town of Bukama in central Katanga's Kilumbe district. The area, located in Upemba National Park, can only be accessed by boat.

Last November, UNHCR sent a team to the region to assess the needs of the returnees and look at ways to bring in relief items and distribute them. Aid stocks were brought to the area by railway and road and the first distribution was held in January, with almost 8,000 families benefiting.

There are still more than 30,000 IDPs in Katanga and some 1.3 million throughout the DRC, according to UNHCR.