Angolan returns cross 12,000; UNHCR plans gradual increase
LUANDA, Angola, August 12 (UNHCR) - With over 12,000 Angolan refugees going home since the start of voluntary repatriation on June 20, the UN refugee agency is increasing efforts to open up areas of return and to help returnees reintegrate in their home areas.
The 12,000 returnees came from neighbouring Zambia, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and headed for 13 communes in Angola that are currently open for return. These include six in Zaire province (northern Angola), four in Moxico (east) and three in Cuando Cubango (south-east), all of which have basic infrastructure and facilities to support returns.
Many other areas are still not ready for returnees due to bad roads, broken bridges or land mines, vestiges of a 27-year civil war that displaced an estimated 4.5 million Angolans within the country and drove some 450,000 others into the region before the fighting stopped in 2002.
UNHCR is trying to gradually increase the pace of repatriation by assessing new areas suitable for return. Its staff are currently in the Maquela area of Uíge province and the Calai area of Cuando Cubango province to work on opening up new corridors of return in the next one to two months.
The refugee agency has also urged the Angolan government to speed up repairs in heavily-destroyed areas, making them safe and sustainable for return.
To help returnees cope with life back home, UNHCR puts them up at reception centres for their first few days in Angola. There, they receive mine-awareness training and information on HIV/AIDS before being sent home with some food, basic domestic supplies, and a construction kit to help them set up their homes.
UNHCR is also working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to distribute agricultural kits - which include seeds and tools - in September, in time for the upcoming planting season.
At the same time, the refugee agency is reaching out to spontaneous returnees, including an estimated over 130,000 who have gone home on their own since last year. UNHCR has been trying to track them down so that they too can receive repatriation assistance.
A joint mission by UNHCR and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to Malange province in central Angola has confirmed that a significant number of refugees are returning spontaneously to the province and are now scattered in two districts.
Allegations of harassment by Congolese and Angolan authorities at the officially closed DRC/Angola border are being investigated. UNHCR is working with other humanitarian agencies to develop a plan of intervention in Malange province.
The refugee agency is also planning another mission to track down spontaneous returnees in Lunda Norte province, northern Angola, in the coming weeks.
To finance these repatriation and reintegration efforts in Angola, UNHCR has appealed for $29 million and received $16 million so far.