Left unmanaged, the return of the Congolese refugees risks destabilising large parts of North Kivu, re-opening ethnic tensions and unravelling the fragile peace process. The question of refugee return is both sensitive and important, and the mandated authorities – the governments of DRC and Rwanda, plus UNHCR must assume their responsibilities. A number of measures can be taken to manage the process, and reduce the risk of conflict.
- In order to avoid rumours and manipulation, it is essential to have a reliable baseline of factual and verified information. The Congolese and Rwandan authorities and UNHCR should conduct a census in the refugee camps, as well as in the returnee camps in DRC, and establish from where these people have returned.
- Mechanisms of pacification and conflict resolution should be put in place. These should involve customary chiefs, state authorities, local community leaders as well as international organisations, in order to ensure impartiality and credibility. Measures to assist those who lose out in land disputes should also be implemented.
- In the medium term, it would be useful to open a debate on the question of land reform, above all to better protect peasant farmers who depend on the customary land system. Of course, before such a reform could take place, security and the rule of law must first be established.
- The signing of the tripartite agreement between Rwanda, DRC and UNHCR should be encouraged, in order to manage the return of the refugees in a transparent manner. In this context, it is important that UNHCR better coordinates its work between DRC and Rwanda. At the same time, those Congolese refugees not registered by UNHCR, living in Rwandan villages, must also be identified and assisted in their return to DRC.
- Means to establish the identity of those people who have already crossed should be established– involving Congolese and Rwandan authorities, and the international community. Are these people refugees, and are they Congolese? Measures to assist those who are considered economic migrants or stateless should also be put in place.
- The Congolese government should show more leadership concerning the refugee question. The Congolese authorities have the right and the responsibility to control who crosses its border. It is also the responsibility of the government to identify who are its citizens. The government should encourage the return of the refugees, and welcome the returnees by ensuring their rights as Congolese citizens. The government should avoid using xenophobic discourse.