BRAZZAVILLE, 24 January 2012 (IRIN) - Up to 120,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be helped to return home from the north of neighbouring Republic of Congo after more than two years.
An agreement on the voluntary repatriation beginning in April was reached during a recent meeting between officials from the two countries and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in Congo's capital, Brazzaville.
A statement released after the meeting explained that by April the level of the Ubangui river, which separates the two Congos, will be high enough to allow navigation by the large vessels needed for the operation.
"For this return to be effective, we need everyone to make an effort," said Germaine Bationo, UNHCR's deputy representative in DRC. "We are thinking in particular of donors in both the humanitarian and development sectors.
We invite them to join us and invest in [DRC's] Equateur Province [where inter-communal clashes rooted in resource conflicts prompted a large-scale exodus in late 2009 [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=87961] ] so that the refugees' return is sustainable," she said.
The voluntary repatriation had been scheduled to start in April 2011 but was postponed for logistical and security reasons.[ http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportID=92712 ]
During the Brazzaville meeting, officials from DRC said peace and security had improved in Equateur, a prerequisite for return expressed by 80 percent of the refugees, according to UNHCR.
Some 11,000 of those who had fled Equateur have already returned there from Congo and the Central African Republic, the agency said, adding that some 100,000 people displaced internally in DRC had also returned home.