Angola: Over 25,000 have returned with UNHCR help since June 20
More than 25,000 Angolans have now returned home under the voluntary repatriation operation launched by UNHCR on June 20. A total of 58 convoys have taken place from three neighbouring countries of asylum - the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia and Namibia. Returns from the DRC's Bas-Congo and Katanga provinces continue to lead in numbers, with nearly 14,000 Angolans returning to date, followed by western Zambia at nearly 10,000 and Namibia with almost 2,000.
We plan to increase the pace of returns over the next month, in advance of the upcoming rainy season in October. The first convoys to Madimba and Buela communes in Angola's northern Zaire province, to which nearly 3,000 refugees in DRC have expressed a desire to return, are expected to take place next week. In anticipation of these arrivals, we are working with partners to quickly improve basic health and education services in these communities. We are also planning to start late in September the return of refugees to the towns of Calai and Cuangar in Cuando Cubango province, near the Namibian border. Refugees will return to Angola by boat, crossing the Cubango River.
One major remaining obstacle to planning an increase in returns is the number of municipalities still considered "closed for return" because of the presence of mines, bad roads or broken bridges that do not allow regular humanitarian access. This prevents a return in "safety and dignity" as per our standards. In Moxico province (east of Angola), however, UNHCR is discussing with authorities the opening of additional communities in Luau municipality, near the Zambian border. This follows the recent rehabilitation of a key bridge south of Luau and the completion of a health post and school in another nearby town. In Uige province (north of Angola), UNHCR has begun constructing a reception centre in Maquela do Zombo, the sixth on Angolan territory. We hope to begin organised returns to Uige this year, but it will depend on efforts to improve the Kimbata road linking DRC with Maquela do Zombo.
During his recent visit to Angola and meetings with various high government officials, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers stressed the necessity for the government to achieve more rehabilitation work in rural areas that have been heavily destroyed by war.
In addition to the 25,000 returnees who came back in organised convoys, UNHCR has also assisted about 17,000 refugees among those who returned spontaneously this year, mostly in the northern and Moxico provinces of Angola.
UNHCR estimates that approximately 75,000 Angolan refugees will be assisted in returning this year under the voluntary repatriation operation. UNHCR's total budget for the operation is US $29.5 million in 2003. To date, UNHCR has received $20 million from various donors, including the United States, Japan, Germany, the European Union, Denmark and Sweden.