Last group of Angolan refugees returns home from Botswana as voluntary repatriation programme winds down

Briefing Notes, 1 November 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kisut Gebre Egziabher to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 November 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme for Angolan refugees in Botswana ended yesterday with the return to Angola of 194 people closing a further chapter in one of Africa's oldest refugee situations. A convoy carrying the returnees and their belongings, left Dukwi refugee camp in the east of the country at dawn on Wednesday (30th October), and arrived in Angola yesterday afternoon.

UNHCR declared cessation for the Angolan refugee situation on 30 June 2012. In the case of Botswana, refugee status was finally withdrawn by the Government in August and former Angolan refugees were given until 31st October 2013 to return home. This week's convoy brings to 461 the number of Angolans repatriated from Botswana since June of last year.

Angola's war of independence, which lasted from 1961 to 1975, and a bitter civil war that followed (1975-2002) claimed thousands of lives and displaced some four million people, including 550,000 who became refugees. Most fled to neighbouring countries including Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Botswana.

The convoy journey was a lengthy one of around 1300 kilometres. It arrived in Angola at the southern town of Katwitwi where temporary shelter arrangements are in place. With support from UNHCR and IOM, the Angolan Government is assisting people to proceed to their home villages from Katwitwi to start a new life. 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.

UNHCR provided buses and trucks to transport the returnees and their belongings including beds, corrugated roofing, iron sheets and other common household items. 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.

The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 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 in countries including Democratic Republic of the Congo (74,500), Zambia (23,000), South Africa (5700) and Namibia (1700). The Governments of DRC, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia have offered opportunities for local integration of former Angolan refugees who have strong ties to the host countries.

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