Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) ) – Prospects of repatriation can make camp-based Congolese refugees in northwestern Tanzania break down "in cold sweat", at least for the time being.
Despite security assurances by DR Congo government officials visiting the camp, the refugees who fled bloody conflicts in the mid and late 1990s are not convinced that calm has returned to such areas as Uvira, Baraka and Fizi in South Kivu Province where 91 percent of them originated.
“We don’t see the reason why these refugees are reluctant to go back home,” said Steven Daniel, Tanzania government-appointed commandant of the Nyarugusu camp In Kasulu District, Kigoma Region, that hosts over 60,000 Congolese refugees.
While the number of refugees in northwestern Tanzania has dropped from 800,000 in 2000 to less than 100,000 as a result of voluntary repatriations, largely to Burundi, the Tanzanian government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have made it clear that they intend to close two remaining refugee camps in the near future.
Following the closure of seven camps since April 2007, the UN Refugee Agency is assisting the Tanzanian government to make use of the remaining infrastructure, including schools and health facilities, to benefit local communities in the neighbourhood of former refugee camps.
But Abedi Yonale, a teacher at Mapendo Primary School of Congolese pupils within the Nyarugusu refugee camp, expressed the general position of camp mates, saying:. “We are not ready to return to our home country because the security situation there is not good.”
As a teacher, Yonale is one of influential persons in the refugee community at Nyarugusu who maintain that they don’t see prospects of peace and political stability in DRC and, therefore do not entertain any persuasion about repatriation.
”There is still a long way to go because armed groups set up by government, rebel soldiers of the former Rwanda Armed Forces, Interahamwe militias of Rwanda, Mayi Mayi militias, Palipehutu National Liberation Front and CNDD faction of Leonard Nyangoma and other gangs of robbers still roam the country,” Yonale charged.
Though he was not specific about his source of information on the DRC situation, Yonale claimed it was usually broadcast by some radio stations. “There is no wealth that has more value than peace,” he told journalists who visited Nyarugusu camp last week.
“Only if we are assured that there is total peace, then we shall return to DRC,” affirmed Wakilongo Mwibinge, also a teacher who has stayed at the same camp since 1996 when she fled to Tanzania.
The Nyarugusu camp has 12 primary schools with a total enrolment of 9,992 girls and 9,495 boys while the camp’s four secondary schools have a student population of 4,829 boys and 3,942 girls.
The schools have so far sent some 40 students to various universities in Tanzania and several others are pursuing studies in social work through distance learning programmes.
According to Yonale, a resident of the camp since 1996, their schools teach pupils in line with the standard Congolese curriculum that includes national peace and reconciliation as a special subject.
Teachers are paid a monthly stipend of US$ 15 each in accordance with an agreement between UNHCR and World Vision, a non-governmental organization acting as an implementing partner to keep the community-based education running.
Meanwhile, a tripartite meeting of the Tanzanian government, UNHCR and the DRC government, due to hold here 1-3 June, 2011, could make a difference between the refugees’ prolonged stay in the country and their reluctance to go back home.
“It is high time the Congolese returned home to build a new life,” said Daniel who, in a span of one year, has visited the DRC four times to make on-the-spot analysis of the security situation.
According to the official, the refugees have turned the camp into a business and leisure resort because of the privileges extended to them by the UNHCR.
He said that some of them stealthily made trips to DRC to either collect relatives or to buy goods such as textiles and music CDs for marketing at the camp and re-export to compatriots living abroad.
Western Union has played a key role in facilitating money transfers between the refugees and their contact businesspersons in other countries. However, there is no record on what this informal business contributes to the Tanzanian economy.
“To us this is not a security problem, it is a problem related to economic and social issues,” said Daniel who represents the Home Affairs ministry.
A census taken between December 2010 and January this year showed that 60.5 percent of the refugees at Nyarugusu were aged between 17 years and below.
Observing that the camp has existed for the last 15 years, Daniel described the census results as “effects of delayed action” on the part of the governments of the DRC and Tanzania and the UN Refugee Agency.
“We are creating a protracted situation … and one day these children will say they cannot go back home,” he added, noting that the government wanted to close the camp as soon as possible.
The delay is to a large extent blamed on the tardy progress in voluntary repatriation. UNHCR has assisted more than 66,000 refugees to return to DRC since it signed a tripartite agreement with the two countries in January 2005, but there has been no returnee under the deal since last year.
Tanzania has already declared that it will not offer naturalized citizenship to refugees who entered the country from 1990. It is believed that many of the Congolese anticipate they would be resettled in third countries in European Union member states, North America or Australia.
According to official sources here, the US had in 2005 pledged to resettle between 13,000 and 15,000 of the refugees but it was not clear whether Washington still stood by its promise.
Refugees at Nyarugusu camp may soon find themselves in a situation whereby they must weigh up options between safe and dignified repatriation and resettlement to third countries after missing the window of opportunity for naturalised citizenship in their first country of asylum.
-0- PANA AR/VAO 23May2011
By Anaclet Rwegayura,