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Africa Fact Sheet - Southern Africa

Africa Fact Sheet - Southern Africa

3 November 1999

The government of Angola and UNITA rebels have shown no interest in halting military operations or returning to the negotiating table. Spurred by the increasing hardships faced by the population and the forced recruitment of civilians by both sides, UNHCR called on European governments on 8 September not to repatriate rejected Angolan asylum-seekers against their will, even to Luanda, the capital. In 1998, of the 2,046 decisions handed Angolan asylum-seekers in six European countries, 1,096 were rejections.

The civil war that restarted in June of last year has spread to almost every major town in Angola. Recent military reverses suffered by UNITA in the east of the country have brought new refugees to the DRC, Namibia and Zambia. In the DRC a UNHCR mission to Kisenge located a group of 85 Angolans who had crossed the border on 16 October. The refugees said they had been taken from the Cazombo area and used as human shields by retreating UNITA troops fearful of government air strikes. The group reported that rebels raped, looted and killed indiscriminately and that they escaped to make a four-day trek to the DRC under cover of dark.

In Zambia, the number of refugees arriving from Angola's Moxico province has multiplied significantly. Between 8 and 29 October, UNHCR registered 800 refugees in North Western province and 200 in Kalabo in Western province. Over the past year the rate had held relatively steady at around 100 Angolans per month.

Trucks of UNHCR emergency food aid and tents were sent to three towns at entry points, and, with more Angolans reported to be moving towards Zambia, staff are evaluating the need for a transit centre in North Western province. New arrivals are transferred to existing settlements in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa. UNHCR is also working with local authorities to ensure that if UNITA combatants cross into Zambia they are disarmed and separated from refugees. Rumours have circulated that rebels may resort increasingly to guerrilla tactics, which as in the Bas-Congo in the DRC has raised fears that fighters will move with civilians into neighbouring states.

Zambia has hosted Angolan refugees for decades. Around 32,000 are currently accommodated in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa, the latter being one of the oldest refugee settlements on the continent.

Following another round of violence in Namibia's Caprivi Strip in early August, UNHCR suspended indefinitely the voluntary return of Namibians from Botswana. Around 1,300 people had returned voluntarily from Dukwe camp in Botswana after UNHCR and the two governments signed an agreement on 25 May that allowed UNHCR to assist and monitor the returnees in Caprivi.

As many as 2,500 refugees, including leaders of the opposition movement, crossed into Botswana after clashes between the Caprivi independence movement and Namibian security forces in October 1998. Before the August incidents, UNHCR had resettled several independence leaders from Botswana to third countries. Namibia has charged that the figures have continued to be involved in the unrest from abroad.