As security has improved in the restive Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some 8,500 refugees have left the Lóvua settlement in Angola’s north-east Lunda Norte province in the past week, hoping to cross the border and return home, according to the UN refugee agency.
“More than a thousand refugees have already crossed into DRC and many others are moving towards the border with DRC’s Kasai region,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists in Geneva on Friday.
The deadly clashes in the Kasai region between armed groups and DRC forces in 2017 had left some 1.4 million people displaced from their homes, with 37,000 refugees having crossed the border into Angola.
The recovering security situation in Kasai Provinces, together with presidential elections, recent discussions between the visiting DRC officials and refugees, and the upcoming academic year, sparked this week’s spontaneous returns.
“We have placed staff along the return routes to monitor, interview and to intervene with help where necessary,” said Mr. Mahecic, adding that “UNHCR staff are also providing information to refugees.”
Meanwhile in DRC, the UN refugee agency is working with local authorities to conduct monitoring at the border to evaluate these returns and get first-hand information to meet the humanitarian needs of those arrive back home.
The agency is also participating in tripartite discussions with Angola and DRC to launch a mechanism for voluntary, dignified and sustainable returns.
While noting refugees’ eagerness to return home, UNHCR appealed to both Governments to avoid putting refugees at risk due to an absence of proper planning, transportation and assistance.