UNHCR is encouraged by the strong desire of the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda to have their nationals who are now refugees in their respective countries return home. Officials of the two countries met in Goma in eastern DRC to discuss the first steps in the return of their nationals, estimated at more than 150,000. The two-day tripartite gathering, which ended yesterday, was facilitated by UNHCR.
According to Congolese authorities, some 100,000 Rwandans have been living in the eastern DRC since 1994 following the genocide that killed nearly a million people. The Congolese currently in Rwanda have fled from successive conflicts that plagued the eastern region since 1996.
Later repeated attacks by armed elements in eastern DRC drove thousands of Congolese into exile. However, the overwhelming majority them - some 1.4 million -- are internally displaced within the region and survive on humanitarian aid.
Both the DRC and Rwanda were open about the existing challenges, especially in North Kivu, where the majority of the Congolese have fled old and new conflicts. Persistent hostilities pose a threat to the Congolese in Rwanda. Some 83 percent of the 53,000 Congolese in Rwanda have expressed the desire to return home, according to a survey conducted late last year. However, they would first want the DRC government to end the perennial security problems in the areas of return in North Kivu.
During the meeting, the DRC was urged to improve the security and living conditions in returnee areas to guarantee sustainable returns. The security situation in North Kivu has deteriorated since the start of 2009 following increased attacks against civilians by the so called Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Reprisal attacks by the Hutu rebel group have displaced more than 160,000 people in the last three months.
The meeting also agreed to speedily identify Rwandans in the eastern DRC, the majority of whom had fled into inaccessible forest areas during the joint DRC-Rwanda military operation in North Kivu in January but were now gradually returning back to their villages.
Since January 2009, UNHCR has assisted nearly 5,000 Rwandans to return home. We provide the returnees with transport to transit centres and back home, and non-food items such as blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets. UNHCR is strengthening its presence in Masisi, Kitchanga and Lubero, north of Goma, to have better access and assist the IDPs and returnees.