This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Aikaterini Kitidi – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
GENEVA, Switzerland, March 6, 2018 – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, remains deeply concerned at the situation in the Kasai region of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where continuing instability poses a grave risk to civilian safety, including for several hundred refugees recently returned there from Angola.
Congolese government forces have regained control of large areas of the Kasai, nonetheless there is sporadic fighting between the armed forces and militia groups. Meanwhile, tensions remain high between different ethnic groups, threatening to plunge the region into new violence. UNHCR staff in Tshikapa, a city some 60 kilometres from the border with Angola, report that several internally displaced people, as well as those who have returned from Angola, have been unable to return to their communities because of inter-ethnic hostility.
In February, the tensions led to the internal displacement of over 11,000 people further north in the region, in Mweka Territory. These are in addition to the approximately 900,000 Congolese who have been internally displaced since the Kasai crisis erupted in 2016.
The Kasai conflict has also forced over 35,000 Congolese to seek refuge in Angola. Since September 2017 some of them have spontaneously returned to DRC – only to find that reaching their former homes is impossible. Many are today living in churches and mosques, while others were forced to move to different provinces.
Support for the returnees to rebuild their houses is often absent, as humanitarian funding does not at present allow for a major rebuilding programme. For 2018, UNHCR has requested US$ 368.7 million to help those affected by the DRC crisis. So far we have received just 1 per cent of this.
Among Congolese refugees in Angola, many say they are unwilling to return to their areas of origin at present, because of the fragile situation. UNHCR also believes that returns are not yet possible in a safe, dignified and sustainable manner, since peace and security are lacking.
UNHCR was therefore deeply concerned to learn a few days ago of the forced return of some 530 Congolese from Angola to the DRC between 25 and 27 February. Among them, 52 were registered refugees living in Dundo town close to the DRC border, and about 480 were unregistered refugees staying at the Cacanda reception centre in Dundo. The returns were carried out despite UNHCR’s requests to the Angolan authorities to undertake joint screening of the unregistered group.
UNHCR urges the Angolan authorities to refrain from further forcible returns of Congolese to their country. Should conditions change, UNHCR stands ready to assist the authorities in DRC and Angola in voluntary repatriation discussions.