Angola repatriation: Second season winds down with onset of rains
With the onset of the rainy season, UNHCR is winding down its second season of bringing home Angolan refugees from neighbouring asylum countries while looking ahead to possibly completing our voluntary repatriation programme for camp-based Angolan refugees in the coming year.
Despite a devastated infrastructure, including destroyed roads and bridges and the ever-present danger of landmines, more than 281,000 Angolan refugees have returned home since the Luena peace accords were signed in April 2002. Some 172,000 of them were assisted by UNHCR and its partners. Others returned by their own means.
During this year's voluntary repatriation season, which ran from May to December, nearly 51,000 Angolan refugees returned home with UNHCR assistance from Zambia (27,579), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (19,082) and Namibia (4,189), with lesser numbers from Botswana, the Republic of Congo and South Africa. An additional 12,000 refugees who returned on their own were assisted on arrival at one of the 12 reception centres in various parts of the country run by UNHCR and its partners. In the 2003 season, 43,345 refugees returned to Angola with UNHCR organised movements, and a further 33,000 spontaneous returnees were assisted on arrival.
This season, UNHCR opened eight new corridors of return to Angola, including five air routes, bringing to the number of corridors in operation to a total of 12. The air corridors from Namibia and Zambia opened up areas in Angola which were otherwise difficult for refugees to return to because of extremely poor or impossible road conditions and landmines.
Looking ahead to 2005, we have agreed with Angola and the major asylum countries of Zambia, DRC and Namibia to try and complete the return of some 53,000 refugees remaining in camps and settlements who wish to repatriate. Estimates of Angolan refugees who have settled in other countries in the region vary widely, ranging from 83,000 to around 200,000. It is planned that once the camp-based refugees are voluntarily repatriated, there will be a window of opportunity in 2006 for settled Angolan refugees to return home with UNHCR assistance should they wish to do so.
At the time the peace accords were signed an estimated 441,000 Angolan refugees were estimated to be living in neighbouring countries.