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.

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