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UNHCR airlifts emergency relief items for expelled refugees in Angola

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UNHCR airlifts emergency relief items for expelled refugees in Angola

18 November 2009 Also available in:

LUANDA, Angola, November 3 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has airlifted emergency relief items from South Africa to Angola to help alleviate the plight of tens of thousands of Angolans who were expelled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last month.

The Boeing 747 from Johannesburg arrived in the Angolan capital of Luanda Saturday evening carrying 2,250 tents, 5,000 sleeping mats and 4,000 blankets, as well as a portable warehouse.

The supplies were released from the UNHCR regional stockpile in Durban in response to a request from the Angolan government. In Luanda, the items were loaded onto aircraft provided by the government of Angola to be sent to northern Angola's Uige and Zaire provinces, bordering the DRC.

Angolan authorities have said the number of Angolans expelled, plus those who came back of their own accord in the wake of the expulsions, now totals 50,000. Most of those expelled had refugee status in the DRC. Many were not able to collect their personal belongings before being forced back to Angola.

They are now living in extremely difficult conditions. In one location visited last week, Kitumu in Uige province, UNHCR staff found some 500 people sleeping without mats or mattresses on the cement floor of an old school building. The returnees' stress is exacerbated because many became separated from family members during the expulsions.

Similarly, UNHCR found that some 30,000 forcibly returned Angolans in the Mbaza Congo area of Zaire province needed shelter, water, medication and food when visited three weeks ago.

"In response to their needs, we gave them blankets and soap from our stocks in Luanda and we are working with other UN agencies in Angola, the International Organization for Migration, the national Red Cross and various NGOs to provide them further emergency relief," a spokesperson said.

Before the expulsions, UNHCR was already helping prepare the return of those Angolans who wished to go home. UNHCR now looks forward to working with the Angolan and DRC governments to arrange a safe and dignified repatriation of Angolan refugees to their homeland. At the end of September, there were still 111,000 refugees registered in DRC and a further 40,000 in Zambia, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Namibia.

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.