Libreville, Gabon (PANA) - About 50,000 Congolese who fled the civil war in their country to seek refuge in Gabon between 1997 and 2003 have been told by the Gabonese government to return home as their refugee status expired Sunday, 31 July, PANA learnt Tuesday from official sources.
The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Marcel Kounda, however, assured during a press briefing that the Gabonese government had no plan to expel refugees and asylum seekers from Congo Brazzaville.
"Until the end of the process, the government has asked all holders of state power to ensure the protection of refugees and asylum seekers under a 5 March, 1998, law," Kounda said, noting that none of them would be arrested.
While 450 Congolese refugees have applied for voluntary repatriation, the others have expressed their wish to stay in Gabon. About 217 of them have already been granted stay.
According to UNHCR, 9,500 Congolese refugees are due to return home.
On Monday, the Congolese Minister of Social Affairs, Emilienne Raoul, said that Congo would release about US$ 660,000 for the repatriation of Congolese people who sought refuge in Gabon since 1997.
According to Ms. Raoul, the Congolese government and the UNHCR have prepared a contingency plan for the reception and reintegration of the Congolese refugees from Gabon.
The plan will cost an estimated US$ 11.5 million
-0- PANA LAW/JSG/JEN/BOS 2Aug2011