In eastern DRC, people displaced by more than a year of fighting and violence are beginning to return home. But the UN refugee agency says many are returning to burned or destroyed villages.
Jens Heseman is a spokesman for the UNHCR. From Kinshasa, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the situation in eastern Katanga Province.
“The situation in Katanga has quite changed over the past weeks and months, especially after the surrender of (the) Mayi Mayi warlord…this has changed the situation quite considerably. People start returning spontaneously.”
The United Nations had sent an assessment team to the Sanpwe region of Katanga Province earlier this month. Heseman says, “And there for the first time we have formally confirmed that over 80 percent of the internally displaced in that area have gone back to their home villages. Despite the fact that the situation remains difficult and that they basically return home to nothing because their home villages are in some cases entirely destroyed, burned by the militias.”
Heseman estimates about 170,000 people were displaced in Katanga.
“Many people will try to get back home to their villages and their fields before the rainy season, which starts in October this year so that they can start agriculture right on time not to miss the harvest.”
UNHCR and other UN agencies are assisting the returnees by giving them supplies and even helping them rebuild their homes. In all, the UNHCR estimates about two million Congolese have been displaced by war with many fleeing to neighboring countries.