Once displaced by war, hundreds return to Kisangani

Around 890 people displaced from their homes almost seven years ago in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) arrived in Kisangani, capital of Orientale Province, on Sunday after 43 gruelling days on a boat on the Congo River that came from Equateur Province.

"We are now in the process of finding the means to take them to [the villages] they came from as soon as possible," Hubert Molisho Nendolo, Kisangani’s deputy governor, said.

The returnees, who fled the armed conflict in August 1998, come mostly from rural areas in various areas around Kisangani. A large crowd of family and well-wishers came out to meet them as they arrived at Kisangani’s riverport. However, since disembarking, about 240 returnees have been squatting in an abandoned orphanage without any aid.

"We didn’t organise proper transit camps because [we thought that] many have homes here [in Kisangani] and their families could receive them," Isikisiki Beagaba, head of the provincial Department of Social Affairs, said.

Hundreds more people who fled Orientale remain displaced in Equateur and are requesting repatriation, according to local authorities in Mbandaka, capital of Equateur.

"We are asking for humanitarian actors and the government to intervene," Ives Mobando, Equateur’s governor, said in a statement on Monday.

Crew members of the boat that arrived in Kisangani on Sunday said four children died during the 750-kilometre voyage, which departed from Mbandaka. The trip was organised by the government with logistical support from the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, and various humanitarian organisations.

In June, the government said all people in the country who were still displaced because of fighting should be repatriated before the start of national elections planned for March 2006.