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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - The most striking thing about soccer

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

Soccer is proving a lifesaver for a group of Angolan refugees in South Africa.

Interviews by Yusef Hassan Abdi

It's a big day for the Marconi Beam Hot Spurs. Today the team of Angolan exiles is playing an away game in Malmesbury west of Cape Town and Manoel de Silva hobbles painfully but quickly on a wooden crutch through the dusty alleyways of the township rounding up his young players. Were it not for Manoel, the self-styled soccer godfather of the Hot Spurs, these youngsters so far away from home may already have turned into drug addicts or worse.

Simao Antonio was born in the town of Kareratiro in Malanje Province and is the team captain. The 23-year-old sports dreadlocks à la Ruud Gullitt but his trim athletic turnout belies his turbulent past. He lost his father in Angola's civil war when he was only 13 and after moving to the Angolan capital of Luanda briefly, he finally escaped to South Africa to avoid being drafted into the army.

Mario Santos is MB Hot Spurs reigning star and was top scorer last season with a record 21 goals. The 24-year-old striker is also a draft dodger. Back home the army used to scour his neighbourhood nightly searching for new recruits and after many of his friends were seized he decided to head south for the border. "I didn't want to go to the army. I had no reason to want to kill anyone," he said. "Neither the decision to leave nor the trek to South Africa was easy." He suddenly leaps high in the air in an acrobatic manoeuvre, artfully twists and turns the ball to the delight of bystanders. He smiles and walks away with a glint of pride in his eyes.

Shepstone Basimane is the South African manager of the Hot Spurs and became intrigued the first time he saw the Angolan refugees in action. "Their style is fresh and entertaining," he said. "They are a sheer pleasure to watch." After arranging an exhibition game against a local team, Shepstone immediately asked the Hot Spurs to join the local league.

Manoel de Silva arrived in South Africa in 1993 with a tattered rucksack on his back and like most refugees from that part of the world a harrowing tale to tell. "My home village Kitixe in Uige was destroyed by the war," he said. "I lost many relatives, my father, uncles and my mother. I also suffered but I was lucky and I survived. At a great risk to my life I left for Luanda and I became a deslocado, a displaced person. In 1991, we had a spell of peace but it was quickly wiped out by a new outbreak of fighting. I could no longer stay in Luanda, so I left for South Africa."

Manoel is 33 but he looks older. The wrinkles on his face mirror the trials and of his country and people. I look at his right leg and wooden crutch and ask what happened. The question reopens a painful past which Manoel is reluctant to revisit. He looks away and gazes into the sky. "It's the guerra many people don't know that Angola is a nation of mutilados or the maimed," he says.

Soccer is his, and his fellow exiles, salvation. "Football is important to us," Manoel says. "It lets us relax, enjoy ourselves and forget our problems. It's good for our bodies. It also helps us to establish friendships with others." Soccer, in fact, is proving the salvation of Manoel and his young charges.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 107 (1997)

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UNHCR country pages

Forty Years On, Antonio Goes Home to Angola

Antonio has been waiting 40 years to return to his home village in northern Angola. He fled to Democratic Republic of the Congo when the country was a Portuguese colony, and stayed away through years of civil war and during the peace that followed in 2002. Now, no longer classed as a refugee, he is finally going back.

Seated in a rickety chair in his family's rented apartment in Kinshasa on the eve of his departure, the 66-year-old Angolan was excited. "I feel joy when I think that I will go home. It's better to be a citizen of your own country than a refugee in another country. It's liberation," he said, flanked by his wife, sister and granddaughter.

Photographer Brian Sokol followed the four of them as they began their journey in Kinshasa on August 19, taking a seven-hour train journey to the town of Kimpese in Bas-Congo province and then reaching the border by bus. They were among the first group to go back home with the help of UNHCR under a third and final voluntary repatriation programme since 2002. The family faces many new challenges in Angola, but their joy was far greater than any apprehension. "I will dance when we arrive at the border," said Antonio's sister, Maria. UNHCR is organizing the return of nearly 30,000 former refugees to Angola.

Forty Years On, Antonio Goes Home to Angola

South Africa's Invisible People

In March 2011, UNHCR initiated a project with the South African non-governmental organization, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), to tackle the issue of statelessness. The specific goals of the project were to provide direct legal services to stateless people and those at risk of statelessness; to engage government on the need for legal reform to prevent and reduce statelessness; to raise awareness about stateless people and their rights; and to advocate for the ratification of the 1954 and 1961 UN conventions on statelessness.

LHR had conceived the project a year earlier after noticing that large numbers of Zimbabwean-born asylum-seekers were telling its staff that they faced problems getting jobs, studying or setting up businesses - all allowed under South African law. They told LHR that when they applied for Zimbabwean passports, necessary to access these rights, they were informed by consular officials that they were no longer recognized as Zimbabwean citizens. This effectively made them stateless.

Since the project's inception, LHR has reached more than 2,000 people who are stateless or at risk of statelessness. These people came from more than 20 different countries. It has identified numerous categories of concern in South Africa, both migrants and those born in the country.

The following photo set portrays some of the people who have been, or are being, helped by the project. The portraits were taken by photographer Daniel Boshoff. Some of the subjects asked that their names be changed.

South Africa's Invisible People

UNHCR resumes return operation for 43,000 Angolans in DR Congo

The UN refugee agency has resumed a voluntary repatriation programme for Angolan refugees living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Some 43,000 Angolans have said they want to go back home under a project that was suspended four years ago for various reasons. A first group of 252 Angolan civilians left the UNHCR transit centre in the western DRC town of Kimpese on November 4, 2011 They crossed the border a few hours later and were warmly welcomed by officials and locals in Mbanza Congo. In the first two weeks of the repatriation operation, more than 1,000 Angolan refugees returned home from the DRC provinces of Bas-Congo in the west and Katanga in the south. Out of some 113,000 Angolan refugees living in neighbouring countries, 80,000 are hosted by the DRC.

UNHCR resumes return operation for 43,000 Angolans in DR Congo

Almost Home Play video

Almost Home

Former Angolan refugees, in exile for as many as three decades, are given the opportunity to locally integrate in neighboring Zambia with the help of UNHCR and the Zambian Government.
Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South AfricaPlay video

Surviving in the City: Pretoria, South Africa

Living in Pretoria as a refugee or asylum-seeker is challenging. Most either live rough on the streets or in cramped apartments in townships. There are also tensions with locals because of the perception that foreigners get a better deal than South African citizens.
Top business partners renew supportPlay video

Top business partners renew support

Executives from Manpower, Young & Rubicam, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft visit UNHCR operations in South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.