‘We want to go home,’ Congolese in Zambia tell UN refugee agency

A Congolese family in Kala Camp.

12 February 2009 – Ninety per cent of some 25,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in two camps in northern Zambia want to return home, the United Nations refugee agency said today after a survey was conducted in advance of voluntary returns planned for May.

The verification exercise was conducted late last month by the government of Zambia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn the exact number of refugees, identify those with special needs, update biographical data and collect information on their desire to return to the DRC.

In view of the great interest in repatriation at the Kala and Mwange refugee camps, some 1,000 kilometres from the Zambian capital Lusaka, UNHCR and the government plan to intensify the information campaign it has been carrying out, the agency said.

"Our intention is to ensure that we maintain this high interest by the refugees to return to DRC by intensifying the dissemination of information to them on the conditions in the areas of return," said James Lynch, UNHCR representative in Zambia.

Kiros Zewdie, the UNHCR associate registration officer based in Lusaka who coordinated the process, said the survey found lower numbers of refugees than previously recorded, attributing the gap to unreported returns, absences for work, and some cases of the same children appearing on both parents’ ration cards.

After verification campaign, the population of the Kala camp had decreased to 11,971, which is 977 people less than previous records had shown, and in Mwange the population had dipped 1,658 to 12,771, he said.

More than 16,000 Congolese refugees have repatriated from Zambia to the DRC in the past two years as much of the country begins to recover from its devastating civil war, according to UNHCR.

Zambia hosts more than 83,000 refugees from DRC, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia, with some accommodated in camps and settlements, and others settled on their own.

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