Angolan repatration draws to a close

Briefing Notes, 20 December 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 December 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The return home Monday of a group of 42 Angolan refugees from Botswana marked the end of UNHCR's three-year programme of organised convoys to Angola, under a voluntary repatriation scheme that helped hundreds of thousands of refugees return home. The 42 Angolans, who had been living in the refugee camp of Dukwi in north-eastern Botswana, flew by plane to Menonge in southern Angola where they were given a cash grant to travel on to their home villages. They were also given the usual non-food items for repatriating refugees, ranging from cooking equipment and buckets to more specialised kits containing tools to build houses or seeds and tools to resume farming. Each person also received a two-month food ration from the World Food Programme.

Since the Angolan-organised voluntary repatriation programme started in 2003, more than 123,000 Angolan refugees have gone home with the help of UNHCR. Within Angola, UNHCR has also assisted a further 89,000 people who arrived home on their own. In total, about half a million Angolans are estimated to have repatriated, with or without UNHCR assistance, since the April 2002 ceasefire that brought to an end Angola's 27-year civil war.

This year, more than 28,000 Angolans returned with the assistance of UNHCR from neighbouring countries mainly Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 15,000 by charter air flights and the rest in land convoys. In addition, nearly 9,000 refugees received UNHCR assistance inside the country after returning on their own and approaching UNHCR reception centres.

At the end of this year there will still be an estimated 96,000 Angolan refugees outside the country, including those in camps in Zambia, DRC and Namibia, as well as urban refugees caring for themselves and those registered as settled in other countries.

There are also an unknown number of Angolans who have settled in Zambia and DRC where UNHCR is conducting a registration exercise to establish their intentions for return. Although transport will only be made available for the most vulnerable cases, UNHCR will provide resettlement assistance inside Angola to those who return on their own. The future of Angolan refugees still in Zambia who have not taken up UNHCR's repatriation assistance will be discussed when the Tripartite Commission grouping Zambia, Angola and UNHCR meets in January.

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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.

Forty Years On, Antonio Goes Home to Angola

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Angola: Home At Last

On April 4th, Angola will celebrate five years of peace. The decades-long war is over, but establishing peace has not been easy. UNHCR has been instrumental in bringing Angolans back home, helping them re-start their lives and renew ties with their communities.