Civilians fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo | Photo: Dai Kurokawa / Archive / EPA
Civilians fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo | Photo: Dai Kurokawa / Archive / EPA

With the first convoy of 88 refugees, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR on July 19 resumed the voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees from Angola to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after departures were halted in 2020.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR resumed on Tuesday (July 19) a program for the voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees from Angola after departures were halted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the organization reported that the first convoy of 88 Congolese refugees departed in the morning of July 19 from the Lôvua settlement in northern Angola towards the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The voluntary repatriation program is organized by UNHCR, together with the governments of Angola and the DRC, in cooperation with the UN Migration Agency --International Organization for Migration (IOM) and several partners.

The refugees travelled in IOM trucks towards the border of Chicolondo. More convoys are scheduled to cross the border of Chissanda over the next few weeks, the organization said. The refugees will head to various destinations in western DRC, including Kasai, Kasai Central, Kwilu, Sankuru, Lomami, Lualaba and Kinshasa, the capital.

Economic assistance and inclusion

Although the conflict continues in eastern DRC, improvements in security registered in the West of the country have once again allowed the possibility for Congolese refugees to return to their country in dignified and safe conditions, UNHCR reported.

Upon arrival in the DRC, repatriated Congolese will receive cash assistance to help cover basic needs such as personal hygiene, household items and initial assistance for rent, the statement said.

Additional assistance is also provided for integration, for example helping children enroll in school. Due to political and ethnic violence that exploded in the DRC's Kasai region, in 2017 over 35,000 people crossed the border to find safety in Angola.

Most of them were hosted in the Lôvua settlement in Lunda Norte region. In recent years, many refugees have spontaneously returned to the DRC. Today, Lôvua hosts some 7,000 refugees, the UN agency reported.

Over 600 Congolese refugees have already expressed willingness to be repatriated, according to UNHCR.

Since 2019 over 3,000 refugees have returned to DRC from Angola

The voluntary repatriation program from Angola kicked off in 2019 but was interrupted in 2020 due to the condition of roads and the bridge over the Kasai river, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to border closures.

Nearly 3,000 refugees returned to the DRC in the first phase of the program, the organization said.

UNHCR provides assistance to some 57,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Angola, mainly in urban areas.

Last year, nearly 430,000 people worldwide were able to return home in safety and dignity, a 71% increase on the previous year, UNHCR said. Nearly two-thirds of refugee returns were to South Sudan. That number, however, represents only 2% of refugees globally.

 

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