UNHCR helps Angolans return home from Central African Republic
BANGUI, Central African Republic, 8 June (UNHCR) - A first group of eight refugees from Angola have recently returned home with the one-off help of UNHCR after years of exile in the remote Central African Republic (CAR).
They were among 21 Angolan refugees who approached UNHCR in the CAR capital, Bangui, and asked to be repatriated on an exceptional basis. The others are expected to fly out of here later this month. A further 75 Angolans in CAR, which does not share a border with Angola, are unlikely to return home and will seek to settle locally.
"The war is over and there is peace now in Angola," said Feliciana Castelo, explaining why she wanted to return home after some 25 years of exile in the Central African Republic. "It's still our home," she added of Angola, which she fled twice.
Some 460,000 Angolans fled their country during four decades of strife, which only ended in 2002. Most sought refuge in neighbouring countries and most have returned home - the UNHCR repatriation programme formally ended last December. A few made it all the way to CAR, crossing other countries en route.
UNHCR offices in Bangui, Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, and Luanda in Angola have worked together to organize the repatriation of the 21 people from four Angolan refugee families. The first group of eight people flew out of Bangui on June 6.
The refugee agency will provide the returnees with some financial, medical and material assistance to ease their reintegration into Angolan society. This process will not be easy as Angola is still recovering from years of civil war. Castelo said this was another reason to go back. "The best solution for refugees is to return home. Our country needs us."
Castelo first fled the former Portuguese colony, Angola, during the war of independence and spent 15 years in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She returned home in 1975, but fled again in 1980 to DRC and a year later to CAR.
Castelo integrated quickly, making many friends and learning French and the local language, Sango. "The people were nice to us, despite all the problems," she said. But the Castelos always stayed in contact with fellow Angolan refugees in Bangui and with their relatives back home in Luanda. These contacts intensified as they started to contemplate their return home, allowing them to gather information about the conditions in Angola and take the decision to return.
By Nicolas Rost in Bangui, Central African Republic