Angola + 1 more

First return convoy takes Congolese refugees in Angola home

KINSHASA, June 20 (UNHCR) - In a reverse of the usual flow of refugees, the UN refugee agency last week organised the first convoy for 42 Congolese living in Angola to return to their home in western Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The Congolese returnees will be living in areas which previously provided asylum to Angolan refugees. Just weeks earlier, a final convoy of Angolan refugees returned home in late May from the same Kisenge region, ending a refugee programme that ran for more than 20 years.

Since a peace accord was reached in Angola in 2002, thousands of Angolans sheltering in neighbouring DRC have been returning home in a large voluntary repatriation operation due to end in October this year. But, less well known, has been the plight of the 13,500 Congolese refugees in Angola, many who have been in Angola for nearly 30 years.

On the first convoy of June 15 were 42 Congolese refugees originally from the Kisenge area in the DRC, who had been living since 1977 in the Sungi refugee settlement near Angola's capital Luanda after fleeing general violence in their country. The returnees flew over 1,000 km from Luanda to Luau in eastern Angola, and then travelled by road, crossing over into DRC at the Dilolo border point. Arriving back in their home province after the day-long journey, returnees received blankets, jerry cans and mats. All arrived in good condition and underwent a medical check.

"Most of the returnees were older, they were tired of living in another country and wanted to return home," said a UNHCR protection officer in Angola. A small number of Congolese in Sungi refugee settlement and also a small number from Viana camp, which houses some 7,000 Congolese, have also expressed a wish to return home.

UNHCR has worked in Kisenge for more than 20 years and has constantly monitored conditions for return. While western Katanga is suitable for return, the eastern part of the province remains unstable with security and human rights concerns and is not considered safe for return.

With this first organised return from Angola to the DRC, the UN refugee agency is now assisting refugee return from three asylum countries to the DRC. Organised repatriation from the Central African Republic started in October 2004 and return movements from the Republic of Congo started in April this year.