- A major resettlement operation of Angolan refugees in Zambia started today. By October this year, 40,000 refugees are to be repatriated in Angola only from Zambia. Another 50,000 Angolans residing in the region may also be returned this year.
As the situation in Angola continues to stabilise with the implementation of key peace accords, hundreds of refugees from that country began returning today from Zambia, the UN refugees agency UNHCR reports. "The first convoy of 363 returnees left Meheba Refugee Settlement in Zambia this morning," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said today.
The agency anticipates helping 40,000 Angolans to return from Zambia between now until the end of October when the rainy season starts, according to Ms Pagonis. This is more than half the total Angolan refugee population living in camps and settlements in Zambia and more than double the number that returned from there last year, the UN reports.
But the repatriation programme is not an easy task. Currently, the Meheba-Cazombo route is the only accessible land route between the two countries due to poor roads, broken bridges and landmines. To access other parts of Angola, various possibilities are being discussed with the government and the International Organisation for Migration, including road rehabilitation and airlifts.
Returnees are to be brought to a reception centre at Cazombo, where they will stay for several days to attend sessions on mine and HIV/AIDS awareness and get medical assistance if required, the UN says. UNHCR is to provide the new arrivals with supplies such as soap, kitchen sets, blankets, a tool kit, seeds and agricultural tools. They are also to receive two months' worth of food rations on their way out.
- In preparation for this year's returns, UNHCR improved the road to Cazombo which was in bad condition after the rainy season, Ms Pagonis said. "We also rehabilitated departure centres and way-stations to make the journey more comfortable for the returnees."
Also in the Zambian refugee camps, the response to the renewed repatriation effort was positive. "It is indeed gratifying that today, we are yet marking another milestone in our pursuit of durable solutions for refugees," said UNHCR's Regional Representative based in Zambia, Ahmed Gubartalla, referring to the resumption of the Angolan repatriation movement.
He thanked the government and people of Zambia for their long-term hospitality towards refugees: "In the true spirit of African generosity, Zambia kept the asylum door open for persons who genuinely needed protection. The people of Zambia must be proud to see that the refugees they hosted are now able to return to their country and become part and parcel of the force of reconstruction of a new Angola," Mr Gubartalla said.
At the time the peace accords were signed in April 2002, about 441,000 Angolan refugees were estimated to be living in neighbouring States. UNHCR estimates some 223,000 Angolan refugees currently remain in the major asylum countries - Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Zambia, Namibia and Congo Brazzaville - as well as about 14,000 in South Africa and Botswana.
Separate UNHCR programmes are to repatriate another 50,000 Angolans from these countries. Another repatriation programme, which started in May, is currently underway from Namibia to Angola. UNHCR expects 145,000 Angolan refugees to return home this year, 90,000 of them with the agency's assistance.
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