Thousands of Congolese refugees in Gihembe Refugee Camp in Gicumbi District have expressed their desire to return home.
The move comes after a recent shortage of food hit the camp prompting some of the refugees to appeal for repatriation.
“We definitely want to go back home because we are starving here, so, its better we go and look for what to do in our own country,” said one of the refugees, who preferred anonymity.
“The 11 kilograms we have been getting was not enough to feed our children and now they want to reduce it, what should we do now? It is better to go back and look for a livelihood back home while dealing with conflicts rather than dying here,” Jean Pierre Munaziri, another refugee lamented.
According to the World Food Programme, the 11 kilogrammes of food rations, is supposed to cater for one family for a whole week.
The refugees’ representative at the camp, John Nsengiyera, said some refugees had demanded to be repatriated for fear of hunger at the camp.
“Some of these people want to go back, not because Congo is safe, but because they are running away from hunger here,” he said.
A census, which began in July, is presently ongoing to establish the exact number of refugees residing in the country.
According to the UNHCR officials, 191 refugees representing their families have, so far, registered for repatriation in the ongoing census at the camp.
According to Jean Claude Rwahama, the Director in charge of Refugee Affairs at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, it was everyone’s right to return home, saying that the government cannot turn down their wish.
“We do not force anyone to return; it’s their decision if they want to repatriate,” he said.
He, however, added that efforts were being made to secure food from various donors.
UNHCR's External Relations Officer, Anouck Bronee said that some refugees had requested to return to Congo adding that their role is to provide information on the current situation in their country.
“It’s true there are some refugees who have manifested interest in returning home…our role is to give them the information concerning their country and if they decide to go, they are free to do so.”
Due to funding hitches, maize rations that were distributed to refugees were reduced from 11kgs per person per month to seven kilogrammes. Beans remained at 3.6kgs per person per month; oil remained at 0.9kgs, and salt at 0.15kgs.
WFP recently called for donors’ support to cover a critical shortfall of 2,250 metric tonnes of assorted commodities valued at US$3.8 million, which is the sum needed to feed 54,000 Congolese refugees until the end of this year. However, up to now, no positive response has been forthcoming.
The three camps located in Karongi, Gicumbi and Gatsibo districts have a total population of about 54,000 refugees.