The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects the voluntary repatriation of around 14 700 refugees from Angola to their regions of origin in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to be complete by mid-December 2019.
That comes as thousands are boarding buses and other forms of transport in Angola.
UN Resident Coordinator in Angola Paolo Balladelli commended the Angolan government for the role it has played in receiving the refugees.
“The Angolan authorities have shown their solidarity by welcoming people, including children, who were at risk of life due to serious ethnic conflicts,” Balladelli said in a November 13 press release.
UNHCR has already organised four convoys for the repatriation of 1 239 Congolese refugees from the Lóvua settlement to Tshikapa in the Kasai region via the Nachiri border in north-east Angola.
The first organized convoy left the Lóvua settlement on October 9. Image: @todipe
On November 13 UNHCR inaugurated a new route from Lóvua to Kananga in Kasai Central that goes via the Tchicolondo border in Angola. So far 200 people have been repatriated via a convoy using this route.
But those numbers are expected to increase exponentially as the process continues.
UNHCR’s support for organised repatriation was prompted by thousands of Congolese refugees who left Lóvua spontaneously making their way back to the DRC.
The waves of Congolese refugees crossing the border into the DRC also led UNHCR and the governments of Angola and DRC to sign a Tripartite Agreement which provided a legal framework for voluntary repatriation.
The agreement also allowed UNHCR and French non-profit organisation AIDES to construct transit centres in Kalamba-Mbuji while Doctors Without Borders also set up mobile clinics.
The 14 700 are part of 35 000 people who sought asylum in Angola's Lunda Norte province.
They fled mass killings, mutilations and the destruction of entire villages after conflict broke out in the DRC’s Kasai region in March 2017. A further 4.5 million were made internal refugees by the conflict.
While there has been a lull in the fighting since the second half of 2017 insecurity continued to cause waves of displacement according to a Unicef report published in May 2019.
Background to the conflict
Fighting in Kasai intensified after the Chief Kamuina Nsapu was killed on August 12 2016 along with eight of his supporters after they launched an attack on policemen.
The political situation deteriorated further when the Kamuina Nsapu militia formed to avenge his death was pitted against the Bana Mura militia which supported the Kabila government.
Those who fled to Lóvua told harrowing stories about senseless brutality, the loss of relatives and the trauma experienced by women in a conflict where rape and sexual violence were used as weapons of war.
UNHCR has documented harrowing personal experiences told by women who fled to Lóvua.
Images: UNHCR/Giles Duley
The internally displaced were also forced to abandon their farmlands which has contributed to severe food insecurity. By May 2018 at least 770 000 children in the Kasai region suffered from acute malnutrition according to Unicef.
According to UNHCR data, 884 817 DRC refugees were hosted in 20 African countries at the end of October 2019. The majority were in Uganda which hosted just over 384 000.
While sporadic waves of fighting after the end of the civil war in 2003 have forced thousands to flee to other countries, the country also hosts more than 538 000 refugees. More than 63% of these are under the age of 18.
The country still receives new arrivals from Burundi, the Central African Republic and South Sudan according to UNHCR.