Zambia starts last year of repatriation to Angola
SOLWEZI, Zambia, May 11 (UNHCR) - A first convoy of Angolan refugees has returned home from Zambia as the UN refugee agency starts its third and last season of repatriation to Angola.
The group of 75 Angolans left Meheba refugee settlement in Zambia's Solwezi district yesterday, spent the night at the border and proceeded to Cazombo in Angola's Moxico province today.
The farewell ceremony in Zambia, which featured cultural dances, drama performances and speeches, was attended by Zambian Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Peter Mumba, UNHCR Regional Representative to Zambia Ahmed Said Farah, and representatives from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Angolan embassy.
Mumba announced that 2005 marks the last year for organised voluntary repatriation movements from the camps and settlements in Zambia. "This means that there will no longer be humanitarian repatriation assistance for returning Angolans in the year 2006," he said. "I therefore want to call on Angolan refugees to come out in numbers this year for assistance to return, as well as the humanitarian actors to rise to the challenge of ensuring that a larger percentage of the refugees are assisted to return this year."
The permanent secretary added that Angolans living outside of camps and settlements in Zambia should wait for the registration and screening exercise scheduled for June this year. He thanked the international community for supporting the repatriation programme and urged them to continue assisting reintegration programmes in Angola to ensure sustained returns from the region.
"This is a very happy day for all of us," said UNHCR's Farah at yesterday's ceremony. "It is of particular significance as we come to say our happy and last goodbyes to our colleagues. Happy goodbyes because our friends are going back home to restart their lives and gladly resurrect their once shattered dreams in their country of origin."
He paid tribute to the Zambian people for the long years of hosting refugees, and commended the Angolan refugees for contributing significantly to Zambia's economy, mainly through agriculture. He encouraged them to continue with the spirit of hard work in order to help in the reconstruction of Angola.
"You know that there is nothing better than going back home, after long years in exile, to join your brothers and sisters and help in the reconstruction process in your home country," said Farah.
Angolan Chargé d'Affaires, João Da Costa, thanked the people and government of Zambia for hosting Angolan refugees for over three decades. He expressed happiness that the time had come for all Angolans living in exile to return home. Da Costa assured Angolan refugees that peace had come to stay in Angola, thus, they should all take advantage of the situation and go home to rebuild their lives in a place they rightly belong.
Augusto Jembe, 21, was among the first to heed his call, joining Tuesday's convoy from Meheba settlement. "I am very, very excited as you can see. I have always wanted to go back home. That's why today I took the first convoy. My parents and brothers left last year, but I had to wait and complete my grade 12 examinations," he said, explaining that the school certificate would enhance his chances of getting a job in Angola.
While there is a lot of enthusiasm to repatriate by Angolan refugees in Zambia's camps and settlements, yesterday's small convoy was due to the fact that most refugees are still harvesting their crops in this agricultural settlement. It is expected that the momentum will pick up in future movements as the refugees finish the harvest. Moreover, the simultaneous convoy movements from all the camps and settlements will greatly increase the number of refugees repatriating in weekly convoys and airlifts.
So far this year, more than 1,500 Angolan refugees have gone home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Namibia. In all, approximately 310,000 have returned to Angola since 2002, some 175,000 of them with UNHCR assistance. The refugee agency plans to help some 53,000 Angolan refugees home by the time the repatriation movement is completed at the end of this year.
By Kelvin Shimo