World Bulletin / News Desk
The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned of unrest as thousands of refugees return home to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from Uganda.
"Conditions are favorable for spontaneous returns but not favorable enough to encourage or promote voluntary repatriation this time," Fafa Oliveir Attidzah, the UNHCR representative in the eastern Congolese city of Goma, said during a meeting Monday with officials from the DRC and Uganda.
Spontaneous return is when individual refugees return to their countries on their own initiative without support.
Voluntary return, meanwhile, is a special program whereby refugees willing to be repatriated are offered logistic and other assistance to return in groups.
Since the beginning of this year significant spontaneous returns began to be recorded.
Most Congolese refugees returned to the areas of Benni and Rucuru in North Kivu, which were previously held by the M23 rebel group and now enjoy a respite from the conflict.
"There are still several armed groups active in the zone such as Allied Democratic-NALU Forces, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and several Mai Mai groups," Attidzah cautioned.
The fighting between the U.N. Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) and these groups makes the situation in the zone "dynamic and volatile."
The official insisted, nonetheless, that the U.N. respects the refugee right to return to their country at any time - even when UNHCR does not consider it safe for most refugees to return.
According to the UNHCR, Uganda hosts over 347,000 refugees – including over 171,000 Congolese.
The Ugandan government, for its part, estimates the number of Congolese refugees at 184,000.
Some of the Congolese refugees have been in Uganda since 2004 though the actual large scale emergency influx began in 2011 and continued through 2013.
The three-day tripartite meeting aims to streamline the return of the Congolese refugees from Uganda.
Attidzah said the challenge before Uganda, the DRC and the UNHCR is to evaluate just how much and in what way they can provide assistance to the refugees so that they can return voluntarily in safety and dignity.
Nearly 108 people, mostly believed to have been Congolese refugees trying to return home, perished on 22 March when their boat capsized in a lake between Ugandan and the DRC.
Ugandan State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Ecweru said the three parties will come up with detailed modalities on how to facilitate voluntary repatriation.
"I want to add that we shall respect the voluntary character for the repatriation," he said.
The minister added that the Congolese refugees will be provided with necessary information about return areas so that they can make informed decisions about repatriation safely and in dignity.
DRC Minister for Internal Affairs, Security and Decentralization Affairs Richard Muyej Mangez, for his part, said the DRC government has, with support from the U.N. forces, consolidated security and decided to escort the refugees back home.
"However this should be done in an organized manner."Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Nisan 2014, 10:54