Nearly 30 000 refugees have recently returned home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from Angola, where they fled to escape a violent armed conflict that rocked the Kasai Province in 2016 and 2017, the United Nations and the Congolese government said this week.
The deadly clashes between armed groups, including the Kamuina Nsapu, and DRC forces left nearly 1.4 million people displaced from their homes, with 37 000 refugees having crossed the border into Angola, according to the UN.
“More than a thousand refugees have already crossed into DRC and many others are moving towards the border with DRC’s Kasai region,” Andrej Mahecic, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson, told a press briefing on Friday.
At least 30 000 have finally arrived in Kasai through the Kamako border post, Deller Kawino Ndongo, governor of the diamond-rich Kasai Province, said, adding that repatriation was simultaneously done on three fronts, namely by Kwango in the Bandundu, Luiza in Central Kasai, and the majority from the Kamako border.
The recovering security situation in Kasai Provinces, together with presidential elections, recent discussions between the visiting DRC officials and refugees, and the upcoming academic year, sparked this week’s spontaneous returns, the UN refugee agency said.
“We have placed staff along the return routes to monitor, interview and to intervene with help where necessary,” Mahecic said.
Alain (35), a Kasai man who was separated from his sister at the height of the conflict, told Daily Afrika from the capital Kinshasa that he had received news that she was among the returnees.
“I can confirm that she is alive and well, thank God. I haven’t seen her for more than a year since we were separated. It’s a long story. The war is bad, very bad. I thought I lost her for good,” Alain said, sounding happy and relieved.
Furthermore, the DRC government said that Congolese living illegally in Angola were also among the returnees. Thousands of Congolese were arrested, beaten and brutally deported from Angola, and women gang-raped by security forces and civilians, according to eye witnesses and deportees.
The UN refugee agency also said it was holding discussions with the governments of Angola and DRC to launch a mechanism for voluntary, dignified and sustainable returns.