GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. refugee agency says it expects to assist more than 4,000 refugees in Angola who want to return to their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Kasai province. A first group of several hundred refugees will return this week as part of a voluntary repatriation.
Fighting that erupted in Kasai province between armed groups and DRC security forces in 2016 has lessened and security conditions have improved. The refugees will be repatriated in line with a voluntary return agreement signed between the UNHCR and the governments of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo on August 23.
The conflict, which was triggered by tensions between traditional chiefs in Kasai-Central province and the government, has displaced 1.4 million people and prompted 37,000 refugees to flee to Angola.
U.N. refugee spokesman Charlie Yaxley said his agency is providing returnees with transportation and cash to help them reintegrate into their home communities. But, he told VOA conditions in Kasai remain unstable and unsustainable, so, the UNHCR is not actively promoting returns at this time.
"We have enough to feel comfortable assisting those who do want to return, who come to us with a voluntary decision that is their wish. Beyond that we are not in a situation to be able to promote returns at this stage," he said.
Yaxley said thousands of Congolese who have returned home spontaneously have found living conditions very challenging. He says schools and health centers have been badly damaged and destroyed. He said they will have to be repaired for returns to be stable and sustainable.
"Although fighting amongst armed groups has calmed, some refugees are still uncertain about the condition in which they will find their homes. And, some are unwilling to return to their homes and are moving elsewhere, as they fear a return of inter-ethnic violence," he said.
Yaxley said international support will be needed to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore basic services essential for sustainable returns. Unfortunately, he says the programs are greatly underfunded. He noted the UNHCR has received just 57 percent of its $150 million appeal to help people affected by the DRC crisis.