NAIROBI, 23 May 2005 (IRIN) - Some 1,600 internally displaced people (IDPs) began their journey home on Thursday along the mighty River Congo, from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the provinces of Equateur and Orientale, according to a UN official.
In a statement, Jens Laerke, the information officer in the post-conflict unit of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said on Friday the IDPs boarded a Congolese naval vessel at the Kinshasa harbour, marking the start of the operational phase of a joint UN pilot project aimed at providing protection and security for 67,554 IDPs.
"A crowd of on-lookers on the quay cheered and waved as the boat - packed to the brim with people and their belongings - set out on the mighty Congo River," Laerke said.
The IDPs had fled their homes following years of civil war, which ended officially in 2003. According to the unit, there are an estimated 2.4 million IDPs in the country.
Laerke said when the boat reaches Mbandaka, the main town in Equateur; a group of 500 IDPs would board for the final destination of Kisangani in Orientale. Along the way, people would be landed in Lisala, Makanza and Bumba.
The reinsertion project, with a budget of over US $2 million, is financed by Norway and the UNDP. The Congolese Ministry of Social Affairs executes it nationally.
Laerke said being a pilot project, the operation would seek new knowledge "by testing different methods, tools, and approaches in the reinsertion process, for instance in terms of identification, registration, protection, and assistance provided to the returnees".
In addition, host communities would be prepared for the influx of IDPs, he said. Lessons learned from the project would, at a later stage, be incorporated in the search for durable solutions to the IDP problem on a national scale.
In January 2005, the first reinsertion of 350 IDPs took place in Equateur. In April, Laerke said, an additional 300 IDPs, who had taken refuge in Kinshasa, were reinserted in and around Kindu, the main city in the central province of Maniema.
He said the IDPs received a kit comprising basic necessities, foodstuff, a bicycle, and a cash grant of $55 to $90, depending on the number of people in a household.