This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
An estimated 8,500 refugees have spontaneously left the Lóvua settlement in Angola’s Lunda Norte province since 18 August with the intention of returning home to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This appears to be a response to reports of improved security in some of their places of origin and anxiety to return home in time for the beginning of the academic year.
More than a thousand refugees have already crossed into DRC and many others are moving towards the border with DRC’s Kasai region.
Kasai province is recovering from deadly clashes between armed groups and DRC forces in 2017 that displaced some 1.4 million people from their homes. Around 37,000 refugees from the violence crossed into Angola.
This week’s spontaneous returns from northeastern Angola are linked with presidential elections and follow recent discussions between the visiting DRC officials and refugees, where refugees were briefed about improvements to the security situation in Kasai Provinces.
Until now, the Lóvua refugee settlement had been hosting more than 20,000 refugees. The Angolan Government has provided transport to some of those on the move, but others have left the settlement on their own. Many refugees are camping alongside the main roads in northeastern Angola – these include women and children.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working with partners and both Governments to meet the humanitarian needs. We have placed staff along the return routes to monitor, interview and to intervene with help where necessary. UNHCR staff are also providing information to refugees.
Inside DRC, UNHCR is working with local authorities to put in place monitoring systems at border entry points to assess the nature of these spontaneous returns and get first-hand information on what type of assistance is needed for the population once they arrive back home.
UNHCR is currently engaged in tripartite discussions with Angola and DRC to put in place a mechanism for voluntary, dignified and sustainable returns. The international principle that any refugee return to a country of origin should be voluntary applies. While understanding refugees’ eagerness to return home, 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.
While security has improved in the Kasai region in recent months, elsewhere in DR Congo insecurity continues to drive thousands from their homes in restive areas of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri provinces near the border with Uganda.
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Originally published by UNHCR on 23 August 2019