Democratic Republic of the Congo / Angola repatriation
UNHCR today launched the final phase of its repatriation operation for Angolan refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by starting to return home more than 20,000 vulnerable Angolan refugees and their dependants who have been living outside camps in the DRC's Bas Congo region. When this phase is completed in late December, it will mark the end of our four-year repatriation programme for Angolan refugees.
UNHCR officially ended the repatriation operation for all Angolan refugees living in refugee sites in four countries bordering Angola in late 2005, but agreed to extend the repatriation programme for a further year to help those living outside the camps to return home before the end of 2006. Some refugees in Zambia have also had a last chance to return home during this extension period.
Recently, UNHCR registered nearly 120,000 so-called spontaneously settled Angolan refugees out of the total 146,000 in the DRC. This particular group of refugees in the DRC is unique, as they settled among Congolese communities and for decades lived and worked alongside their hosts. During registration some 60,000 of these refugees said they wanted to return to Angola. We agreed to assist over 20,000 vulnerable refugees and their dependants - the elderly, single mothers without steady family support networks, unaccompanied children and those unable to return on their own.
Today's seven-truck convoy is taking home some 195 Angolan refugees from Kimpese, about 300 km south-west of the capital Kinshasa, to Mbanza Congo in northern Angola. The five-hour journey is mostly along rough, unpaved roads. Upon arrival at Mbanza Congo, families will receive shelter kits, agricultural tools, seeds for planting and food rations for three months. Other assistance will include training in tailoring, bakery and crop production.
Earlier this week, UNHCR trucks travelled to several villages in the Bas Congo province to collect the returning Angolan families. We have identified nearly 60 pick-up points which will be used over the next two months to collect refugees, as their homes are scattered in more than one hundred villages across the Bas Congo province. Already this stage of operation is extremely demanding as the road network in many parts of the Bas Congo is nonexistent. In many areas, bridges are either destroyed or too weak for heavy vehicles. In some cases refugees will have to walk long distances to reach collection points to board trucks taking them to a transit centre.
Because of the poor state of the roads and the dangers of mines in Angola, UNHCR is considering airlifting home more than 5,000 refugees who want to return to villages in Uige province in northern Angola.
During three decades of conflict, nearly half a million Angolans fled to neighbouring countries. Today's convoy is scheduled to cross into Angola at Luvo/Lufu border point which in June 2003 was the scene of jubilant ceremony launching UNHCR's repatriation for Angolan refugees. Since then, some 370,000 Angolans refugees have returned home, including nearly 180,000 from the DRC.