UNHCR resumes refugee repatriation to Congo after poll-linked suspension
"We have decided to resume voluntary repatriation movements this week. The one-month temporary reduction of operations was a precautionary measure, not linked to any specific concerns in return areas in South Kivu [province]," Eusebe Hounsokou, UNHCR representative in the DRC, said on Friday.
A first group of 451 refugees were ferried across Lake Tanganyika to the port of Baraka in South Kivu from Tanzania on Tuesday this week. A further 488 returnees were due to set out by UNHCR-chartered boat for Baraka from Kigoma in Tanzania on Friday.
At a transit centre in Baraka, UNHCR gives the returnees an assistance package that includes such items as blankets, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting and jerry cans. Each family also receives food rations for three months from the World Food Programme and agricultural tools provided by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
The repatriations were halted ahead of the July 30 presidential election due to concerns about security before, during and after the country's first multiparty poll in more than 40 years. Incumbent Joseph Kabila won some 45 percent of the vote - not enough for outright victory over his main opponent, Jean-Pierre Bemba. A second round will be held on October 29.
Clashes broke out in Kinshasa hours after the release of provisional results in late August. The violence left 23 people dead and had an impact on refugee return intentions.
Despite their expressed desire to return to their country, some Congolese refugees in Tanzania say they prefer to await the conclusion of the electoral process before making a final decision.
With today's return, the total number of Congolese returnees to the DRC this year has passed the 22,000 mark. Of them, more than 14,000 went to South Kivu province and some 7,300 to Equateur province in the north-western part of the country. There are still more than 350,000 Congolese refugees in need of solutions. Most of them are hosted by neighbouring Tanzania, Zambia and Republic of Congo.