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UN to repatriate Congolese refugees from Sudan

UN agency to repatriate Congolese refugees from Sudan despite concerns

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is scheduled to begin repatriating around 850 Congolese from South Sudan today to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), from where they fled more than 40 years ago, despite poor conditions and insufficient funds for reintegration assistance because the elderly group wants to return home.

The refugees, who settled in Juba – which is now the capital of South Sudan – will return to Kisangani in northeastern DRC, as well as to rural towns in Orientale Province, with today’s flight scheduled to take the first 32 returnees to Kisangani, a UNHCR spokesperson told reporters in Geneva.

“These refugees, because of their advanced age and poor living conditions in Sudan, have demanded repatriation to the Democratic Republic of Congo – fully aware of the difficult situation in their areas of return and that there is no reintegration assistance available,” said Jennifer Pagonis.

“Nevertheless, it should be noted that the overall security has somewhat improved in the return areas. The entire group registered for return to the DRC has been thoroughly informed of the difficult situation they will face back home, but remain strongly determined to return.”

Despite the fact that UNHCR does “not consider the conditions in the specific areas of return as favourable and conducive to sustainable return,” the agency said it had agreed to facilitate the return of this “very specific group of Congolese refugees,” who had fled from the post-independence turmoil and the coup that brought Mobutu Sese Seko to power in 1965 in the country he renamed Zaire (now the DRC).

Upon arrival, refugees will be met by UNHCR staff in the DRC and provided with transport assistance to their places of origin in the villages around Kisangani. UNHCR has also alerted non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and agencies operating in the area to offer their support and provide any possible assistance.

Overall, this programme presents a "challenging logistical operation,” Ms. Pagonis said, adding that towns such as Buta and Aketi, in Orientale Province – which is about the size of Spain – can be reached only by air as roads and bridges are either damaged or do not exist.

In preparation for the return, UNHCR and representatives of the National Commission for Refugees, an inter-ministerial body of the DRC Government, have used a UN-sponsored radio to encourage residents to welcome those coming home after four decades in exile. In addition, residents were invited to assist the returnees in identifying their relatives.

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