NAIROBI, 12 Sep 2005 (IRIN) - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, will begin facilitating the repatriation of approximately 150,000 refugees from Tanzania to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on October 15, according to a statement it issued on Friday from Kinshasa.
"It is expected that a large part of them will voluntarily return over the coming two years," UNHCR said.
The agency also announced that the governments of the DRC and Tanzania had agreed with UNHCR on how the relocation should take place. UNHCR and partner agencies will take the refugees from the Lugufu 1, Lugufu 2 and Nyaragusu camps to Tanzania's port of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika and then to the DRC.
"The passage across the vast Lake Tanganyika will take place with safe boats inspected by UNHCR," the agency said.
"At this point in time refugee return from Tanzania is only possible to the Uvira and Fizi territories of South Kivu, where the security situation notably improved over the past months," UNHCR added.
Already the number of "spontaneous returnees" to South Kivu has increased sharply. The agency estimates that more than 800 refugees have returned each week since August.
"In total more than 14,000 Congolese refugees have come back with their own means to South Kivu, mainly from Tanzania, but also from Burundi and Rwanda, since October 2004," UNHCR said.
UNHCR is providing these returnees with food, household items and transport within South Kivu.
The agency also plans to begin what it calls "trial movements" of refugees prior to 15 October "to evaluate the logistical capacities and assistance needs."
UNHCR's representative in Tanzania, Chrysantus Ache, cautioned that the repatriation must take place gradually.
"The capacities to receive returnees in their home areas without creating a humanitarian crisis and the logistical means for the actual movement put limits to the number of refugees we can repatriate per week," he said.
He added that the refugees must not expect to be able to return to the DRC in time to register to vote for the national elections.