Angola: UNHCR airlifts relief items for expelled refugees

Briefing Notes, 3 November 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 3 November 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has airlifted emergency relief items from South Africa to Angola to help alleviate the plight of tens of thousands of Angolans who were expelled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo last month.

The Boeing 747 from Johannesburg arrived in the Angolan capital Luanda early Saturday evening carrying 2,250 tents, 5,000 sleeping mats, and 4,000 blankets, as well as one as one prefabricated warehouse. The supplies were released from the UNHCR regional stockpile in Durban in response to a request from the Angolan government. In Luanda the items were immediately loaded onto army planes provided by the government of Angola to be sent to Uige and Zaire provinces in northern Angola bordering DRC.

According to Angolan authorities, the number of Angolans who were expelled plus those who came back of their own accord in the wake of the expulsions now totals 50,000. Most of those expelled had refugee status in the DRC. Many were not even given any opportunity to collect their personal belongings before being forced back to Angola.

They are now living in extremely difficult conditions. In one place visited by UNHCR last week, Kitumu in Uige province, we found some 500 people sleeping on the cement floor of an old school building without sleeping mats or mattresses. The returnees' stress is exacerbated because many became separated from family members during the expulsions.

Similarly, UNHCR found that some 30,000 forcibly-returned Angolans in the Mbaza Congo area of Zaire province needed shelter, water, medication and food when we visited them three weeks ago. In response to their needs, we gave them blankets and soap from our stocks in Luanda and we are working with other UN agencies in Angola, the International Organization for Migration, the national Red Cross and various NGOs to provide them further emergency relief.

Before the expulsions, UNHCR was already helping prepare the return of those Angolans who wished to return home. UNHCR now looks forward to working with the Angolan and DRC governments to arrange a safe and dignified repatriation of Angolan refugees to their homeland. At the end of September, there were still 111,000 refugees registered in DRC and a further 40,000 in Zambia, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Namibia.