The New Times (Kigali)

1 June 2012

Rwanda: Congolese Refugees Begin Repatriation

At least 512 Congolese refugees from Nkamira Transit Centre in Rubavu District have returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo despite the continued fighting in North Kivu, UN refugee agency has said.

Nearly 10,000 refugees crossed into Rwanda during the course of last month, fleeing fighting in the eastern part of the country.

"At this stage, because of the persistent insecurity and the volatile situation in North Kivu, UNHCR does not facilitate returnees to DRC and those who did were spontaneous returnees," Anouck Bronee the UNHCR's External Relations Officer told The New Times yesterday.

She said the UN refugee agency could not block the returning Congolese, saying the refugees have the right to go back, if they so wish.

Fighting between the government army, the FARDC, and a group of mutineers in North Kivu has escalated since April forcing thousands to flee to neighbouring countries, especially Rwanda and Uganda.

Meanwhile, Jean Claude Rwahama, the Director in charge of refugees in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, said they have halted the move.

"They (refugees) had requested and we allowed them to return, but we realised it was not good and we have now stopped them," he said.

Asked about the freedom of refugees to return, Rwahama said; "It's their right, but apparently as a country of asylum it doesn't make sense to allow these Congolese to return yet the situation is still unstable."

He said the refugee repatriation will now depend on the situation in North Kivu.

During his recent visit to the transit centre, the Governor of DRC's North Kivu Province, Julien Kahongya Paluku, advised his compatriots not to return home, saying the situation was not yet conducive.

"As a government, we cannot encourage you to come back into war...however, we will discuss with all partners to ensure that security returns so that you can return to your homes," he told the gathering.

"Our objective is to ensure that even the Congolese in various camps in Rwanda return home. We don't want any Congolese to suffer in refugee camps," he said.

Gonzague Karagire, a government official based at Nkamira centre, observed that more Congolese nationals were still entering Rwanda through La Corniche border post in Rubavu, Western Province.

"I'm now at the border and we are still receiving more Congolese nationals," he said.

However, all this happens as the government, in collaboration with the UN refugee agency, are planning to relocate the Congolese to Kigeme refugee camp in Southern Province.

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