UNHCR wraps up return programme for Angolan refugees in Botswana

This week's final convoy of 194 people convoy brings to 461 the number of Angolans repatriated from Botswana since June of last year.

Angolan refugee returnees on arrival at Katwitwi in southern Angola after their journey from Botswana.  © UNHCR/J.Abrigada

DUKWI REFUGEE CAMP, Botswana, November 1 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has this week wrapped up its voluntary repatriation programme for Angolan refugees in Botswana, organizing a final return convoy for 194 people.

The buses and trucks in the UNHCR convoy, carrying the refugees and their belongings, left Dukwi Refugee Camp in eastern Botswana on Wednesday and arrived in southern Angola today.

UNHCR recommended that countries declare cessation for the Angolan refugee situation on June 30 last year, but in the case of Botswana, refugee status was finally withdrawn by the government in August this year and former Angolan refugees were given until the end of October to return home. This week's convoy brings to 461 the number of Angolans repatriated from Botswana since June of last year.

Angola's 1961-75 war of independence from Portugal, and a bitter civil war that followed until 2002, claimed thousands of lives and displaced some 4 million people, including 550,000 who became refugees. Most fled to neighbouring countries.

The convoy journey from Dukwi is a lengthy one of around 1,300 kilometres, ending in the southern Angolan town of Katwitwi, where temporary shelter arrangements are in place. With support from UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, the Angolan government will assist people to proceed to their home villages.

"Nearly half of this week's returnees are below 17 years in age and were either born in exile or lived most of their life outside of their homeland," said Kisut Gebre Egziabher, a UNHCR spokesman.

"We also provided returnees with cash grants of US$100 per adult and US$50 per child, to assist with reintegration. Prior to departure, the Angolan consulate in Botswana issued the returnees with travel documents and identity cards," he added.

The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and can be applied when fundamental and durable changes have occurred in a refugee's country of origin, removing the need for international protection.

Now that cessation is in effect, Angolans who fled their country during those turbulent years and remain abroad will no longer be regarded as refugees by UNHCR and host governments.

Although most Angolan refugees in the region have gone back home since 2002, more than 100,000 still remain in exile, including in Democratic Republic of the Congo (74,500), Zambia (23,000), South Africa (5,700) and Namibia (1,700). The governments of these countries have offered opportunities for local integration of former Angolan refugees who have strong ties to the host countries.