By Alexandra Stenbock-Fermor and Lubiana Gosp-Server in Kananga, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Although UNHCR gave them cash assistance, registered their numbers and helped them with transport where possible, many still face extremely difficult conditions. They walked for days, sleeping on roadsides and carrying all their belongings. Some families who returned spontaneously are uncertain about where to go, or fear going back to their homes.
“Many pregnant women, old and vulnerable people started going on the roads to leave Angola,” recalls Rose, 54, who also decided to come back with her husband and children before organized convoys started.
“When, we arrived, we stayed with host families and in churches. Some churches were hosting five families, some hosted ten,” she adds.
The organized returns began in October last year, following a Tripartite Agreement between UNHCR and the Governments of Angola and DRC. UNHCR aims to complete the exercise in the first quarter of 2020, reaching roughly 19,000 returnees.
A few weeks after their return, UNHCR visited families in Tshikapa, a city in Kasai where many chose to return to.
Being home is a relief but even with the assistance to cover their basic needs, many are still struggling.
Chadrack Neta lives in a rented house with four of his children; one of his daughters went missing during the conflict. He also lost his farm and property when they fled Kasai. Another daughter now walks with crutches after she was attacked by armed men and his wife was shot and still needs critical medical assistance.
“Before the war, I owned a farm where I had pigs, chicken, sheep and many other things,” says Chadrack. “I even had a fish farm. I once received a call saying that my farm had now been given to someone else. I do not know how I will ever get it back.”
He adds that when the family returned, they received some money from UNHCR which he used to pay school fees for his children.
“However, it is too little to buy shoes, clothes or school uniforms,” he explains. “I have a disabled daughter – how can I even buy crutches? They are expensive here. Their mother has a bullet in her body and she needs surgery, X-rays and medical exams. It is expensive.”
Assiya, another returnee who came back to Tshikapa with her husband Moussa and their three children, adds that the cash assistance is not enough.
“We paid four months of rent in advance with the money given to us,” she says. “We are wondering what we will do afterwards, since we are renting and our money is running out.”
Thousands of returnees are looking for lasting solutions to help them restart their lives.
The DRC needs more investment and support in its efforts to improve public infrastructure like schools, health centers and social services, which in turn will ensure a safe and dignified return for Congolese refugees who choose to come back home.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).