UN says thousands of DR Congo refugees returning from Angola

Congolese women and children arrive at a border point in Chissanda, Lunda Norte, Angola after fleeing militia attacks in Kasai Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 2 May 2017. –Courtesy photo

KINSHASA - Thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Angola have returned home in the past week, UN and government sources said on Friday, following improved security there.

"An estimated 8,500 refugees have spontaneously left the Lovua settlement in Angola's Lunda Norte province since 18 August with the intention of returning home to the Democratic Republic of Congo," a spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR told reporters in Geneva.

The return appeared to be a "response to reports of improved security in some of their places of origin", spokesman Andrej Mahecic added.

He said it followed discussions between the visiting DRC officials and refugees at which refugees were briefed about improvements to the security situation in DRC's southwestern Kasai province which borders Angola.

The UN's Radio Okapi, quoting Kasai's interior minister Deller Kawino Ndongo, put the figures much higher.

"Nearly 30,000 Congolese refugees in Angola returned on Friday to DR Congo," it said.

UNHCR spokesman Mahecic said the agency was in discussions with Angola and DRC to assist in "voluntary, dignified and sustainable returns".

"UNHCR appeals to both governments to avoid situations where thousands of refugees could be at risk because of an absence of proper planning, transportation and assistance," he said.

The latest departures appear not to be linked to other recent mass returns.

In October 2018, Angola said about 380,000 illegal migrants, mainly from DR Congo, had left the country in less than a month under an Angolan government operation against diamond trafficking.

The UNHCR at the time expressed concern about a "fast-developing humanitarian situation" sparked by the mass returns of people from Angola in just a matter of weeks.

It added many would likely "face difficulties due to destruction caused by recent conflict in the area" of Kasai, on the Angolan border.

Although the situation had improved in Kasai, the UNHCR added on Friday that unrest in DRC's northeastern Nord Kivu, Sud Kivu and Ituri provinces, near the border with Uganda was continuing to drive thousands from their homes. -AFP