East or west… the journey home for Central African returnees
Violent conflict over the past few years has driven hundreds of thousands of Central Africans into camps across the country as well as to neighbouring countries. As the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) stabilises following the signing of agreements between warring parties in 2019, many Central Africans are choosing to return home.
Interrupted by the onset of the coronavirus epidemic in 2020, the latter part of the year saw a resumption in repatriation of Central Africans wishing to return home from Cameroon. Much assistance is required to transport them home compassionately, while ensuring they have the basic necessities to restart their lives and reintegrate back into their communities.
“I returned easily from the Mbile camp in Cameroon. I express my gratitude to all the partners, especially AIRD who did a great job during our boat ride from the Mbile site to our arrival at our various destinations in the Central African Republic.
Thank you. I am happy to return to my country, and right now I am doing my small jobs as I used to do before. I am currently a hairdresser at Poto Poto.” Ousmanou Godea (Central African Returnee)
The task of repatriating returnees is not a simple one and requires the cooperation and coordination of several partners working together. AIRD, UNHCR and Red Cross in the Central African Republic & Cameroon have been, and continue, to work together to facilitate the safe cross border movement of returnees. Over the course of 2020, approximately 2,000 Central African refugees were assisted to return home from Cameroon alone, with thousands more expected to request similar assistance over the course of 2021 from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo among others.
Before returning home, refugees receive information on what they can expect to experience in the process of return. It is also especially critical that refugees do not feel in any way forced or coerced to return to their home country if they believe that their safety would compromised. If they choose to return, they can expect to receive assistance with transportation of themselves, their families and their property.
On arrival in CAR, returnees are able to find temporary accommodation at the Berberati transit centre, built specially by AIRD for this purpose. The path they choose to take after this is an important one as for many it is the first time in months, or even years, that they no longer carry the tag of refugee, and may have far more choice over where they can live and raise their families.
The AIRD team in CAR, like many others, is hopeful that conditions will continue to improve and stabilise, and that they will be able to facilitate the safe transportation of returnees and their belongings home, and support with the necessary basics to help them restart their lives.
“I would like to express here my deep gratitude to AIRD for the work done on our behalf to facilitate our return to the country. I thank AIRD from the bottom of my heart and all the partners who contributed to the success of this repatriation process in every convoy.” Alkassim Alkazhadi (Representative of the Central African Returnees in Berberati)