DAR ES SALAAM, 13 Oct 2005 (IRIN) - The repatriation of Congolese refugees who have been living in camps in western Tanzania began on Wednesday with the first batch of 282 leaving for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has announced.
"The returnees were taken to Baraka in the DRC," the agency said in a statement. "Most of the refugees who were in the convoy come from Baraka and a few are from Uvira [South Kivu Province], who will be sent there by bus to their home."
Tanzanian government officials, UNHCR staff and those from NGOs operating in refugee camps accompanied the Congolese on their return home. UNHCR said the repatriation was for those who had voluntarily opted to go home.
Besides the returnees, UNHCR said, there were 15 representatives of the remaining refugees who were going to DRC on what it termed a "go and see" visit.
"These representatives will remain in DRC for one week and return to Tanzania to inform their colleagues about the conditions at home," UNHCR said.
Wednesday's repatriation follows a meeting held on 8-9 September in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, between the UNHCR, Tanzania and Congolese government officials who decided to help those willing to return home.
UNHCR said at least 150,000 Congolese refugees were still in Tanzanian camps and that Wednesday's repatriation was "a test convoy".