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DR Congo, Rwanda take first steps to repatriate 150,000 refugees

DR Congo, Rwanda take first steps to repatriate 150,000 refugees

Nyagatare transit centre, a focal point for Rwandan returnees and Congolese refugees from Bukavu
Neighbouring nations Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have begun talks on the return home of their 150,000 nationals taking refuge in each other’s country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Officials from the two countries met in Goma, in North Kivu province in eastern DRC, in a UNHCR-facilitated gathering to discuss the first steps to be taken.

Some 100,000 Rwandans have been sheltering in eastern DRC since the 1994 genocide that claimed nearly one million lives, Congolese officials have said.

Meanwhile, successive clashes in the DRC’s volatile east since 1996 have driven many Congolese across the border into Rwanda. Additionally, repeated attacked by armed groups in the area have driven thousands into exile, with 1.4 million Congolese becoming internally displaced.

“Both the DRC and Rwanda were open about the existing challenges, especially in North Kivu, where the majority of the Congolese have fled old and new conflicts,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said.

Congolese people living in Rwanda are threatened by persistent hostilities. Over 80 per cent of the 53,000 refugees said they hope to return to the DRC, a survey last year found, but they expressed hope that the Government brings an end to the conflicts wreaking havoc in North Kivu, where the security situation has deteriorated since the start of 2009, with attacks against civilians by the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) on the upswing.

During the two-day talks which wrapped up yesterday, the DRC was urged to improve security and living conditions in returnee areas. The meeting ended by stressing the need to quickly identify Rwandans in eastern DRC, most of whom had fled into forests during a joint DRC-Rwanda military operation in January but are now gradually returning to their villages.

Since the beginning of this year, UNHCR has helped almost 5,000 Rwandans return home, providing them with transportation, blankets, kitchen sets and other vital supplies.