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UNHCR seeks support of Portuguese in Switzerland for Angola projects

News Stories, 22 November 2006

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets leading members of Switzerland's Portuguese community at an awareness and fund-raising event for UNHCR projects in Angola.

GENEVA, November 22 (UNHCR) High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, has addressed leading members of Switzerland's large Portuguese community in an event aimed at boosting awareness of UNHCR's work and raising funds for two projects in Angola.

Guterres began his presentation in UNHCR's Geneva headquarters Tuesday evening by giving a quick overview of the agency's work on behalf of refugees and other uprooted people around the world.

"A growing number of people in the world are becoming interested in global issues, including the work of UNHCR. We want to increase awareness and understanding among the public and an effective solidarity with refugees. By helping returnees to reintegrate, people will have another view of them," he told the guests, including senior Portuguese diplomats and leading members of the estimated 167,000-strong permanent Portuguese community in Switzerland.

He said that he and his compatriots living overseas were well placed to understand the problems faced by refugees and other people of concern to UNHCR. "Immigrant communities have a particular sensitivity to these issues. As we all know, in the past many of our compatriots had to leave our country in difficult circumstances," he said.

Large numbers of Portuguese left the country for political and economic reasons between the 1920s and the 1970s. A bloodless left-wing coup in 1974 paved the way for a modern democracy and independence for Portugal's colonies. Many Portuguese have moved to other European countries since the country joined the European Union in 1986.

Guterres also informed the audience about two UNHCR programmes in Angola. The projects are aimed at helping smooth the reintegration of the more than 380,000 Angolans who have returned to their country in the last four years.

UNHCR hopes to tap the Portuguese community the third largest group of foreigners living in Switzerland for funding, especially of the Angola projects given the historical ties between Portugal and the African country, which gained independence from Lisbon in 1975.

Under the first project, aimed at promoting food security and self-reliance, seed banks are being set up. Some 500 families will be able to access the banks during the planting season. The second project will help provide Portuguese-language tuition for some 2,000 returnee children in Moxico province.

The projects are part of UNHCR's larger programmes for Angola in the areas of agriculture and education. The UN refugee agency's total budget for Angola next year amounts to US$8 million, including US$800,000 for agriculture and US$1 million for education.

Some 68 percent of Angola's population still live below the poverty line. Access to basic services, such as education, health and water, remains severely limited and maternal and child mortality rates are among the highest in the world.

By William Spindler in Geneva




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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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The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

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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.

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