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Return of 20,000 Sudanese and Congolese refugees

New pacts pave way for return of 20,000 Sudanese and Congolese refugees – UN agency

About 20,000 refugees from the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including many living in exile for nearly four decades, will start returning home next month under pacts signed between the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and both African governments this week.

The two tripartite agreements signed on Monday laid out the legal framework for the return of 13,300 Sudanese refugees in the DRC and 6,800 Congolese refugees who have been calling Sudan home since the mid-1960s.

“Although many of the Congolese were born in Sudan and are well integrated into Sudanese society, they express a strong desire and determination to return to their homeland,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said yesterday in Geneva. “Older Congolese refugees, some of whom have spent four decades in exile in Sudan, say they want to live out the remainder of their lives in their own country.”

The repatriation by air will start with Congolese refugees originating from the Kisangani area. Many of them fled the DRC, then called Zaire, between 1965 to 1968 as the large African nation’s security situation worsened during the post-independence period and after the coup that brought Mobutu Sese Seko to power.

Most of the 13,300 Sudanese refugees living in the DRC fled southern Sudan between 1994 and 1996. The agreements signed in Kinshasa this week come more than a year after the signing of a peace accord which ended 21 years of civil war in south Sudan.

This week’s agreements follow one endorsed last month in Nairobi between Kenya, Sudan and UNHCR which cleared the way for thousands of Sudanese refugees to be repatriated from Kenya.

A fourth tripartite pact is to be signed today between the Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and UNHCR. The first repatriation movement from CAR is scheduled to begin later this week as people travel from Mboki camp in the southeastern part of the country to Tambura, in southwestern Sudan.

More than 500,000 Sudanese refugees remain in exile in neighbouring countries, and an additional 4 million southern Sudanese are displaced within Sudan itself. Thousands of south Sudanese have spontaneously returned since the signing of the peace agreement last year.

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