As many as 49 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been voluntarily repatriated from South Africa.
Home Affairs Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday said he “welcomes the voluntary repatriation of 49 refugees from the DRC in collaboration with the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency”.
“This is the first group of approximately 400 refugees who have expressed a desire to return to the DRC.”
The department of home affairs said individual reviews were carried out by UNHCR ensuring that returns were voluntary and that the refugees return home with safety and dignity.
Together with the UNHCR, the department said they were collaborating to implement the outcome of “durable solutions” in the joint agreement.
The joint agreement follows a high-level bilateral meeting held earlier this year, on 25 January 2022.
Facilitating voluntary repatriation, which includes countries of origin taking responsibility for their nationals by facilitating their arrival home, is one of the key outcomes of that meeting.
“Progressive partnerships will help us to resolve some of the challenges around the international protection afforded to vulnerable people,” said Dr. Motsoaledi.
“The voluntary repatriation process is also an example of how personal circumstances of vulnerable people can change to an extent that they can return to their home countries when the conditions allow.”
Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Regional Bureau Director for Southern Africa, said: “We are very grateful to the government of South Africa for its generosity in providing sanctuary to people fleeing violence, persecution and human rights abuses and for supporting this group of Congolese refugees to safely go home.”
The refugees are returning to the DRC capital Kinshasa and the city of Lubumbashi, in the south-east of the country, areas considered safe for refugees to return to.
Before commencing their journey, all refugees undertook rapid testing for Covid-19.
On arrival in the DRC, returning families were given cash assistance to help them restart their lives, in addition to a transport allowance.
However, more support is needed to achieve sustainable reintegration for those returning, as well as for the communities receiving them.
UNHCR expects to repatriate up to 400 refugees from South Africa in 2022, up from 275 last year.
“We believe that with time and a conducive environment which must be created by all stakeholders, these numbers will increase exponentially,” said Dr. Motsoaledi.