New agreement paves way for Angolans to return from South Africa
PRETORIA, South Africa, Dec 15 (UNHCR) - South Africa has become the latest country to sign an agreement laying the groundwork for the voluntary return of more than 13,000 Angolans living in exile in the country.
On Sunday, a tripartite agreement was signed in Pretoria by South Africa's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma; Angola's Minister of Social Assistance and Reintegration, João Baptista Kussumua; and UNHCR's Special Envoy for the Repatriation of Angolan Refugees, Kallu C. Kalumiya.
"This agreement means that the final building block for the voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees is now firmly in place," said UNHCR's Kalumiya. "It brings to an end a very important legal phase in the operation and creates the foundation for the final stage which will see thousands more Angolans returning to build a new future in their homeland."
This is the sixth and last tripartite agreement on Angolan returns to be concluded in the region as Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Namibia, the Republic of Congo and Zambia signed similar agreements earlier this year.
Like the others, this agreement sets up a Tripartite Commission to oversee the repatriation process. Tasks will include registering Angolan exiles in South Africa, coordinating reception conditions in Angola and organising reintegration projects in areas of return.
Sunday's signing ceremony unfolded with little fanfare, but the political significance was undeniable. Angola's 27-year-long civil conflict started as a proxy war during the Cold War era, with the United States and South Africa backing the UNITA (Union for the Total Independence of Angola) rebel movement, and the then-Soviet Union backing the governing MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola). More than 400,000 Angolans fled into neighbouring countries in what became one of Africa's most protracted conflicts.
"South Africa has a responsibility in the reconstruction of Angola. It was home to many South Africans (during the struggle against apartheid) and the old regime was part of the destruction of Angola. We will do whatever we need to do to help," said South Africa's Dr Dlamini-Zuma at the ceremony.
"Some of us who have been outside our country for many years know what a good feeling it is to go home and help rebuild your country," she added, referring to exiles from the once-banned African National Congress who were forced to live abroad during the apartheid era.
Since Angola's warring parties signed a ceasefire agreement in April 2002, some 200,000 Angolans have returned home on UNHCR convoys or on their own, mostly from neighbouring DRC, Namibia and Zambia. However, the Angolans in South Africa will pose a new challenge.
"This will certainly not be an easy challenge considering that most Angolan refugees in South Africa are young, well educated and from an urban background," said Kalumiya. "According to our research, most of them are expected to return to overcrowded cities like Luanda and Uíge."
According to UNHCR, there are 13,279 Angolan asylum seekers in South Africa, 5,400 of whom are recognised refugees. Three-quarters of them live in Cape Town, one-quarter in Johannesburg, with smaller numbers in Pretoria and Durban. Although they are the best-educated refugee group in South Africa, many of them work in unskilled jobs in their host country.
"This is merely the beginning of a lengthy and difficult task," said Angola's Kussumua, urging all Angolans to return to help rebuild the country.
While major constraints remain for the rehabilitation of Angola - including landmines and a lack of social services and governmental structures - UNHCR's Kalumiya is convinced that "the fundamentals for a successful repatriation are present."
"Next year will be the make-or-break year in terms of numbers," said the UNHCR special envoy. "Now that procedures and systems are in place, we want to repatriate 140,000 Angolans voluntarily. Most of the camps will begin to empty, and we will round off the process in 2005."
So far this year, more than 45,000 Angolan refugees have returned on UNHCR convoys. Arriving in transit centres in Angola, they receive identity documents and training in landmine- and HIV/AIDS-awareness to refugees returning to Angola. They also get repatriation kits with relief items and food aid from the World Food Programme before they leave the centres for their home areas.
UNHCR also provides community assistance in areas of return to benefit all Angolans who have gone back, including the 20,000 spontaneous returnees this year.