Hundreds of Central African Republic refugees have returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – the first such move since the COVID-19 pandemic forced border closures, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
In a statement late Monday, the UNHCR said the voluntary repatriation operation of refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) started in Nov. 2019 “but was put on hold in March 2020 as the two countries had closed their borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
“The coronavirus pandemic had halted refugee dreams to return home, like many other human aspirations,” UNHCR Deputy Representative in DRC Pierre Atchom said.
“This resumption of refugee returns marks another chapter in the lives of many refugees. They can go home, embracing their country – putting behind their life in exile.’’
Violence between armed groups that started in 2012 has forced over half a million people to flee the CAR.
Thousands of people are displaced within CAR, often spending weeks hiding in the forests without food or water trying to reach safety, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
Neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the DRC, and the Republic of the Congo host the majority of CAR's refugees.
The UNHCR said it plans to assist some 4,000 refugees by the end of 2020 in the voluntary repatriation process – bringing the total to 7,000 since July 2019.