By Raymond Baguma
Ugandan and DR Congo government officials are meeting in Kampala to draw up a plan to enable over 180,000 Congolese refugees return home following the return of peace.
The fourth tripartite meeting which also includes UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened Monday at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala.
It is attended by Richard Magenze, the DR Congo minister of internal security, decentralization and customary affairs with governors of the strife-strike provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale.
Magenze said that with support of the UN mission in DR Congo, the Congolese army has usefully defeated the negative forces in the eastern DRC provinces, and restored peace which is favorable for people to return.
Musa Ecweru, the state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees said the initial plan to repatriate Congolese nationals in 2011 experienced a setback following a resurgence of fighting by the M23 rebel group.
“Since 2011, we have been receiving a mass influx of refugees at different times,” said Ecweru. He said that today, a total of 184,837 Congolese refugees live in Uganda, of whom 35,554 live in Kampala.
Sakura Atsumi, the acting UNHCR representative in Uganda said Congolese comprise majority of refugees in Uganda, and are settled mainly in Rwamwanja, Kyangwali, Nakivale and Kyaka II settlements.
Minister Ecweru said that there has been spontaneous return to DRC of refugees who have been leaving the settlement camps. However, one such spontaneous return turned tragic when over 100 refugees drowned in Lake Albert last month.
“Refugees will be provided with necessary information and sensitized about return areas and programmes so that they can make informed decisions about repatriation in safety and dignity. However in the interim, government of Uganda and UNHCR will work out modalities to facilitate spontaneous returns pending organized voluntary repatriation,” said Ecweru.
Stefano Severe, the UNHCR representative in DR Congo in a statement said displaced civilians who had sought refuge elsewhere are spontaneously returning to their homes in the areas of Beni, Rutshuru in North Kivu.
Severe however said that in spite of restoration of peace in some parts of eastern DRC, several armed groups remain active and the situation is still volatile and unfavorable for voluntary repatriation.