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Returns to Angola

Briefing notes

Returns to Angola

30 July 2002

Nearly 8,000 Angolans have spontaneously returned to their homeland from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since the beginning of the year. Another 4,500 have returned from Zambia. The figures are based on the number of Angolans who have reported to UNHCR that they were leaving. Many do not report to UNHCR, however, so the actual number of spontaneous returns could be much higher.

A total of 7,781 UNHCR-recorded spontaneous returns took place from the DRC between the start of the year and July 25. The returnees left the forested border areas of Bas-Congo, Bandundu and Katanga provinces and headed for neighbouring Zaïre, Uige, and Lunda Norte provinces in Angola. Most Angolans in the DRC say they still prefer to wait for an organised UNHCR repatriation programme, due to start in 2003.

In Zambia, some 4,500 Angolan spontaneous returns have been recorded from Meheba and Mayukwayukwa refugee settlements since April 2002. A total of 484 Angolans departed Meheba in July alone. According to local authorities, at least another 6,000 Angolans are believed to have left this year from villages in the same areas.

In Angola itself, UNHCR is deploying staff and resources in specific areas of return - as much as possible and with the limited funds we have available. We have managed to increase our monitoring capacity along the borders and in the areas of return. Several field missions have been sent to the four identified main provinces of return (Moxico, Uige, Zaïre and Cuando Cubango) and they have started assembling returnee monitoring reports.

Moxico province is reported to have received the largest number of spontaneous returnees so far. Authorities in Luena, Moxico's provincial capital, have reported some 14,800 returnees have crossed at Luau, on the border with the DRC. Another 6,500 spontaneous returnees, mainly from Zambia, are believed to have arrived in and around Cazombo, also in Moxico. Cazombo is not accessible by road because of landmines and numerous destroyed bridges.

In other provinces, initial assessment missions reported the presence of at least 518 spontaneous returnees from the DRC in Maquela de Zombo (Uige province) and 886 returnees in Mbanza Congo (Zaïre province). Small numbers continue arriving from the DRC through two main entry points.

UNHCR has run programmes for internally displaced persons in Uige and Zaire provinces since July 2000. Both areas have suffered heavy damage and are plagued by a minimum of infrastructure. In Maquela de Zombo, three UNHCR-funded NGOs are providing material and medical assistance to returnees. UNHCR has also set aside half a million dollars out of an estimated US $1.87 million initial budget presented to donors for Angolan returnees this year. This money has allowed UNHCR staff from Luanda and Uige to field missions to possible areas of return. It has also allowed the deployment of one truck and 1,500 jerry cans to Cazombo; one light vehicle to Luena; and satellite telephones to both cities.

UNHCR hopes to open some field offices in Moxico Province, where the majority of the refugees will repatriate, by the end of August. By that time, we also hope that NGOs will have started assistance activities on behalf of UNHCR in Moxico.

The absorption capacity in Angola for the return of an estimated 4 million internally displaced persons and some 470,000 refugees is extremely weak. Angola faces severe food insecurity and malnutrition. There is also a lack of potable water and poor sanitation, shelter, health and education facilities. Many parts of the country are inaccessible because of landmines and destroyed roads and bridges.