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Angola: repatriation from Namibia resumes

Briefing Notes, 21 May 2004

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 21 May 2004, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Repatriation of Angolan refugees from Namibia resumed yesterday, after a six-month suspension during the rainy season. The first convoy of 200 Angolan refugees left Osire camp, Namibia, on Thursday for Cunene province, in the south-east of Angola. The repatriation was planned during last month's Tripartite Commission's meeting in Luanda between the governments of Angola, Namibia and UNHCR.

UNHCR plans to run convoys from Osire each week. The camp is still holding some 12,000 refugees who fled their country during the 27-year civil war. Convoys will run first to Cunene, then to Kuando Kubango and finally to other provinces of Angola.

The returnees will spend a few days at a reception centre in Cunene, where they will be provided with accommodation, food and medical assistance as well as training sessions on landmine awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention, before heading to their final destinations.

This convoy marks the official resumption of the repatriation operation to Angola for this year, during which UNHCR expects to transport some 90,000 Angolan refugees from Namibia, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Convoys from Zambia and the DRC are expected to resume in June, once the rains are over in these regions and road conditions have improved, through the same return corridors as last year. UNHCR and its partners also plan to provide another 55,000 spontaneous returnees from the three bordering countries with the same assistance, bringing to 145,000 the total number of returnees we are going to help this year.

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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.

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For more than a year, a collection of startling photographs taken by refugee children in Namibia and Yemen has been travelling the world, giving a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil at such a young age.

Professional photographer Brendan Bannon conducted the "Do You See What I See" project for the UN refugee agency in Yemen's Kharaz Refugee Camp and Namibia's Osire Refugee Camp.

He ran a series of intensive two-week photo workshops for a dozen children in each camp. Bannon guided them through a series of exercises that focused on the self, the community, the family and dreams. Here are some of the amazing results.

"What emerges in these pictures is a commentary on humanity - proposing what to them is love, what is suffering, what is funny, what can be discovered about self, family, history and community: What makes us alike and what makes us different," Bannon wrote.

A travelling photo exhibition was put together and has been seen by thousands of people around the world. It is now showing at the United Nations in New York, but the photo exhibition has never been shown on UNHCR's website before.

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