The governments of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees have agreed to fast track the repatriation of Congolese refugees by September this year.
At the end of a three day tripartite meeting, the three parties agreed that before the repatriation kicks off, Uganda and the UNHRC shall conduct a return intention survey amongst Congolese refugees living in refugee settlements.
The survey is expected to be finalized by the end of July 2014 and the information shared with the DRC government. Musa Ecweru the State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees explains that the survey is meant to establish whether the refugees have understood that it is safe to return home.
Both the DRC and Ugandan government have promised to allow whoever wants to return home to do so spontaneously. Shuttle services by the UNHCR shall be provided to transport the refugees back home.
The UNHCR is undertaking mapping in Goma DRC to determine areas where to provide community based assistance to the returnees. So far there have been several spontaneous returns to Beni and Rutshuru in North Kivu.
The vast majority of Congolese refugees in Uganda are those that crossed in 2013 during the M23 fighting. Richard Muyej Mangez, the DRC internal affairs, Security and Decentralisation Affairs minister says the 108 Congolese who died in the March 22nd boat tragedy on Lake Albert were looking for fresh air and peace.
He however, says the refugees did not follow the required procedure, which is useful for their safety saying this should not be allowed to happen again.
Mangez also assured the refugees that there is peace and progress in their home areas considering the negative forces are now nonexistent. He adds that the North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku Kalongia has visited the region to establish the rule of law, territorial installations and restore police services.
Stefano Severe, the UNHCR Regional Representative in the DRC revealed that they have opened six offices in Rutshuru to organize support for the refugees and the same thing will be done in other areas.
Uganda is host to 184,837 Congolese refugees. The first tripartite agreement between Uganda and the DRC was signed on the 29th of October 2010 to effect voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees. However, a wave of insecurity emerged in the DRC resulting into mass influxes of Congolese refugees in Uganda between 2011-2013.