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UNHCR begins repatriation of Central African Republic refugees from Congo (Brazzaville)

Republic of the Congo

Refugees from the Central African Republic living in Betou in the northern part of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) have started returning home.

They are taking advantage of a voluntary repatriation program by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR announced in March.

Some 6,000 refugees have lived in the camp which is some 50km from the border of their home country.

Sebastian Sangba, one of the refugees was among the first batch of 100 refugees returning home.

“Whatever your fate, a man feels better at home, so I prefer to go back to my country and get back into business,” Sebastian said adding that “right now there is nothing to do (here).”

The Central African Republic has been embroiled in a sectarian conflict which started in 2013 when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group forced the then president Francois Bozize out of power.

Although many of the refugees are happy to return home, there are some who are skeptical following ongoing clashes between some armed groups and the UN particularly in the PK5 district in the capital.

A former Imam in the volatile PK5 neighbourhood, Abdoulaye Mamdou Konate who had to flee his home after the houses of his relatives were ransacked said: “The Muslim community is ready to return but it is difficult because there is no peace.”

Sebastian however believes there is much more work to be done back at home.

“If we stay here, who will rebuild our country? Among those who will rebuild the country, we are here, we must therefore form a block and return and try to take care of our country.”

A further 600 refugees are expected to follow the first 100 in a few weeks.

For many of the refugees, it will be the first time they will be returning home in 5 years.

The UNHCR which is facilitating the return of the refugees is also providing them with some allowance to restart their lives in the C.A.R.

“We will take care of their transportation in collaboration with the UNHCR in the CAR and then we will give them what is called the viaticum. Each family member, whether a child or an adult, will receive a certain amount that will help with their reintegration,” said Jean-Claude Kourouma, head of the UNHCR office in Betou.

Some 32,000 central Africans fled their country to the Republic of Congo in 2013 at the height of the conflict.

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