UNHCR restarts return programme for Angolan refugees in DR Congo

Briefing Notes, 4 November 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 4 November 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is today restarting a repatriation programme for Angolan refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after a four year hiatus. 252 people are being returned to Angola from the Congolese city of Kimpese some 220 km west of Kinshasa.

Organized large-scale voluntary returns of Angolans from DRC stopped in 2007 because of logistical and other difficulties at that time. Between 2003 and 2007 UNHCR helped some 57,000 Angolans in going home from DRC.

DRC is today home to some 80,000 Angolans refugees, who have been in exile for decades. The new return initiative comes after a UNHCR survey in 2010 found that 43,000 people were interested in going home, and following a new tripartite agreement between Angola, DRC, and UNHCR which was signed in June this year. Around 20,000 people have already signed-up for UNHCR help with returning.

Refugees are telling UNHCR staff that they want to go home because of the improved prospects for peace in Angola, because their families are waiting for them, because they feel they would be better off at home, and because they miss their country. One of those returning home today is a 91-year-old woman who is looking forward to being reunited with her children who have already gone back to Angola.

This morning's convoy from Kimpese, involving seven buses, is scheduled to cross the border into Angola at around 11:00 a.m. local time. The journey to the border is about 80 kilometers.

In preparation for the return, refugees arrived yesterday (Thursday) from refugee villages and settlements around Kimpese and spent the night at a transit centre. They went through medical screening, and vaccinations, and received their voluntary repatriation forms, which will serve as an identity document until they have their Angolan ID cards.

The returning Angolan refugees are being escorted by a DRC Ministerial Delegation and UNHCR's Representative in DRC. UNHCR is planning two return convoys per week.

Angola has assured all refugees that the authorities will help them with housing, micro-credit, vocational training and other projects. UNHCR will monitor their well-being for up to 18 months.

The return of Angolan refugees to Angola is also taking place from other countries in the sub-region. Return operations from Republic of Congo are expected to start soon. A few weeks ago, 1,700 Angolan refugees left from Zambia.

Large-scale returns can involve huge logistical challenges. Roads and bridges have to be repaired a task that becomes more challenging with the start of the rainy season.

Some 113,000 Angolan refugees remain in DRC, RoC, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.

In October, UNHCR and IOM jointly appealed for US$21 million to help Angolan refugees return home from their countries of asylum. So far we have received just US$8 million.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kinshasa, Celine Schmitt on mobile +243 81 700 9484
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on +41 79 557 9106
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DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

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As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

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