DRC refugees hesitate to return home

2011-10-14 12:21

Betou - Tens of thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo are hesitating to return home despite the end of the tribal fighting that forced them out two years ago.

"Has there been a true reconciliation between all of the tribes, even those who didn't sign the [non-aggression] pact?" timidly asked one refugee recently.

He spoke at a meeting with fellow refugees who had been sent to see whether peace had really returned to the Equateur region in DRC's northwest after feuding warlords signed a non-aggression pact in March.

The people living in makeshift camps dotted all along the Oubangui river in the Republic of Congo fled in October 2009 after fighting broke out between Enyele tribal warriors and members of the Monzaya community over the rich fish stocks and farming land in the province.

Some 200 000 people fled the clashes, with some 120 000 crossing the Oubangui river to the Republic of Congo. Another 20 000 went to the Central African Republic, of whom about half have gone home. Others were internally displaced.

When surveyed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in mid-2010, 80% of villagers in the Congo Republic said they wanted to go home but only if the security situation had improved.

But although the Enyele and the Monzaya signed a non-agression pact in March and the DRC has urged its citizens to return, the refugees along the river remain hesitant.

Several hundreds of them turned out to hear about the situation on the ground from four refugees sent on a scouting mission recently.

"I saw that life has returned to normal because a lot of people had returned and the market is open from 06:00 to 22:00," said Delphine Mokola, one of the four.

Repatriation programme

"These are the signs that convinced me that those who have returned are living in peace."

UNHCR says that the refugees are starting to consider returning and is preparing a repatriation programme along with the authorities of both Congos, whose original April launch has been delayed by security and logistics concerns.

"Until recently, refugees were still saying they weren't sure whether peace and security had returned to Equateur, but this is starting to change," said Celine Schmitt, a UNHCR spokesperson in the DRC.

One person determined to come back home is Ghislain, who has fled his country three times now because of violence. "I love my country, I was always going to return," he says. "A thousand times displaced a thousand times repatriated."

But others aren't so sure.

"I am 65 years old. Two times events on the ground have forced me to leave. Both times I have lost all of my possessions," says another refugee, to the applause and nods of those around him.

"Insofar as I am concerned I can no longer return" even if in the Republic of Congo "I am not at ease, I don't eat well, I don't sleep well."