According to the United Nations refugee agency, the first 100 refugees left on Tuesday, December 21. Nearly 5,000 refugees fled violence in the DRC four years ago and have chosen to return home voluntarily from Zambia in the coming months.
“UNHCR and the Zambian authorities have started the voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees from Mantapala camp, in Luapula province, to Pweto in Haut-Katanga province in DRC, as security has improved enough to allow their return to the country. security and dignity, ”UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said at a regular UN press briefing in Geneva.
20,000 Congolese refugees have spontaneously left Zambia since 2018
UNHCR and the World Food Program (WFP) provided two buses and two trucks to transport the refugees. The latter will receive a cash allowance to help them resume their lives in the DRC.
To facilitate this repatriation in these times of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Zambian government has prepared a rapid screening test for refugees at the Mantapala rural health center, before they start their journey. UNHCR will disinfect buses, provide masks and hand sanitizers and, with authorities, ensure that preventive measures for the novel coronavirus are followed, including loading buses at half their usual capacity.
As security has improved in parts of Haut-Katanga, the UN estimates that 20,000 refugees have spontaneously left Zambia since 2018 to return to their region of origin – mainly in the territory of Pweto.
Some 5,000 refugees expressed their intention to return voluntarily through intent surveys conducted by UNHCR in October. The voluntary repatriation, which will continue until 2022, follows on from the tripartite agreement signed in 2006 by the UNHCR and the governments of Zambia and the DRC.
Zambia hosts more than 103,000 refugees, nearly 64,000 of whom come from the DRC
Some 18,000 Congolese refugees make a living from agriculture in Mantapala camp alongside 5,000 Zambians, through ten integrated villages. The camp was established in early 2018 to accommodate refugees who were displaced due to inter-ethnic clashes as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militias in parts of southeastern DRC in 2017.
To support returning refugees, UN agencies have accelerated immigration formalities. They also provided voluntary repatriation documents, health examinations and school certificates to enable the children to resume their studies in the DRC. There is also the improvement of water and sanitation facilities at the Chiengi district reception center, where returning refugees will sleep.
Zambia hosts more than 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers and former refugees, of which nearly 64,000 come from the DRC.