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