UNHCR offers voluntary repatriation to Angolan refugees in South Africa
PRETORIA, South Africa, May 11 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and the government of South Africa launched a campaign on Thursday to inform Angolan refugees that 2006 will be the last year UNHCR will assist those who wish to repatriate from South Africa.
"We hope Angolans here in South Africa will use the opportunity as a passport to get another chance to contribute to the betterment of their country," Jeff Maqetuka, director-general of the Home Affairs Department, told a news conference in the capital.
Most of the estimated 460,000 Angolans who fled their country during 27 years of war - plus millions more displaced inside Angola - have gone home since a 2002 memorandum of understanding between the government of Angola and the UNITA rebel movement opened the way for reconstruction and reconciliation. The majority of nearly 100,000 still outside the borders are in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but almost 14,000 Angolan refugees and asylum seekers are living in various parts of South Africa.
A news conference that included representatives of UNHCR and the governments of Angola and South Africa - the Tripartite Commission that deals with repatriation of Angolan refugees from South Africa - launched the national information campaign to ensure Angolan refugees know of the voluntary repatriation programme.
The government, UNHCR and non-governmental organisations dealing with refugees began displaying posters and distributing brochures on the voluntary repatriation plan on Thursday in areas where Angolan refugees are known to live, providing refugees with details of the repatriation programme and how to participate.
"Even though the programme is voluntary, we would really want to encourage our fellow friends, brothers and sisters to embrace this opportunity to go and contribute towards the rebuilding of their country. The rebuilding and future growth of Angola is paramount to the NEPAD (the regional New Partnership for Africa's Development)," said Maqetuka.
Under the programme, any Angolan registered as an asylum seeker by the government of South Africa before 20 June 2003 can approach UNHCR for assistance to return to Angola. The programme will end in October 2006 when the rainy season in Angola makes any travel difficult. About half the Angolans who could receive repatriation assistance are registered refugees and the rest are asylum seekers who have not yet been processed.
"Voluntary repatriation remains one of the best options for UNHCR and refugees because it ends the cycle of exile," Abel Mbilinyi, UNHCR deputy regional representative based in South Africa, told reporters. There has been similar assistance for Angolan refugees returning from other countries in previous years, with assisted voluntary repatriation from Zambia continuing this year.
UNHCR will give those eligible for repatriation assistance air tickets for all family members. Each person will be allowed to bring 30 kg of baggage and Angola has agreed that belongings will be exempt from any taxes. Any goods brought in commercial quantities would still be subject to tax.
All Angolan refugees returning to their homeland, including those who returned without UNHCR assistance, are eligible for UNHCR assistance on arrival. Those returning to Luanda receive a grant of $100 per adult and $50 per child under the age of 18; those going to the provinces receive food assistance and a package of non-food items, such as plastic sheeting and buckets, to help them resume their lives in Angola.
"We are now in the reconstruction phase of the country," said António Rafael, chargé d'affaires of the Angolan embassy. "The main resource is human skills - so we want to receive our people."
Angolan refugees wishing to repatriate need to contact the Department of Home Affairs, UNHCR or UNHCR's partners working with refugees in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban or Port Elizabeth. They should bring documents showing they were registered as asylum seekers by the South African government.
Many refugees returned to Angola immediately after the 2002 peace accord was signed, even before UNHCR began assisting repatriation. Last year UNHCR helped 28,305 Angolans to return home, mostly from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
That brought the total repatriation to nearly 363,000, including 123,542 travelling with UNHCR assistance, 90,000 who came on their own but received UNHCR assistance on arrival in Angola, and nearly 150,000 who repatriated without any UNHCR involvement. That represents 80 percent of all Angolans who had fled their country.
As the number of remaining refugees dwindles, UNHCR has shifted its focus from repatriation to reintegration programmes in Angola for those who have returned. This year it has prepared detailed studies in Angola of the areas of greatest return, setting the priorities for development spending to ensure that returnees find life in their home areas is sustainable.
By Jack Redden in Pretoria, South Africa