Angolan repatriation from Zambia resumes for final year
MEHEBA REFUGEE SETTLEMENT, Zambia, August 15 (UNHCR) - The voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia resumed on Tuesday, providing them with a final chance to return with the assistance of the UN refugee agency.
The first group of 45 refugees went in a UNHCR convoy by road from Meheba Refugee Settlement in Zambia's North Western Province to Ndola airport. After the four-hour drive they were airlifted to Angola.
Both UNHCR and the Zambian government emphasised that the exercise will close in December, ending the organised voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia. There will be no repetition of this year's exceptional decision to extend the programme.
The start of the repatriation on Tuesday means there are only two to three months left before the start of the rainy season. UNHCR has begun road repairs on camp access roads, and transit centres have been repaired. An information campaign is being conducted in all camps to stress to refugees that this is their last opportunity to be assisted under organised repatriation.
"We have talked to our people, the refugees, on the need to take advantage of the repatriation now as this is the last chance to be assisted," said Chindele, a refugee leader in Meheba.
Surveys undertaken in Nangweshi, Mayukwayukwa and Meheba camps in May indicated 14,400 refugees wished to return to Angola this year. Among them 3,000 Angolan refugees indicated their willingness to return to the road-accessible destinations of Cazombo, Luau and Luena. They include 2,500 from Meheba, which UNHCR is focusing on.
On May 23 this year, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) issued a joint funding appeal for Angolan repatriation for US$4.8 million to cover IOM expenses in both Zambia and Angola.
IOM was to facilitate transportation and logistics. So far no funding has been received by IOM, though some donors have expressed willingness, but it is hoped IOM will be able to attract sufficient funding to join in the process.
"We have to repatriate the refugees in safety and dignity according to international standards. Therefore, we continue to appeal to our donors for funding of this repatriation operation. This funding requirement is necessitated by the demands of operations, namely air charters and surface transport in both Zambia and Angola," said Abel Mbilinyi, UNHCR officer-in-charge.
The lack of funds has compelled UNHCR to undertake the Angolan repatriation operation from Meheba for now, using its own limited funds. UNHCR will use its own trucks and has started road repairs and final registration for repatriation.
"We'll need donor support in order for us to manage to move all these refugees who have expressed interest to back to Angola. Without funding this will prove very difficult for us to assist these people, more so that this is the final and last year for repatriation," said Jacob Mphepo, Commissioner for Refugees under the Zambian Ministry of Home Affairs.
The tripartite commission, which groups Angola, Zambia and UNHCR, agreed earlier this year that because of the large numbers of Angolan refugees in camps and settlements, including self-settled Angolans in Zambia, the repatriation exercise would be exceptionally extended to the end of 2006.
Since the voluntary repatriation from Zambia started in 2003, a total of 63,324 Angolan refugees have been repatriated from refugee settlements in Zambia to Angola. An estimated 29,000 Angolan refugees remain in camps and settlements in Zambia.
By Kelvin Shimo in Meheba Refugee Settlement, Zambia