Angolan refugee repatriation from Zambia restarts, to continue until year-end
In Zambia this week, officials from UNHCR and the Zambian government are visiting refugee camps to inform Angolan refugees that facilitated voluntary repatriation from Zambia will start up again and continue until December 2006. The organised repatriation was to have ended in December 2005, with assistance given this year only inside Angola to refugees who had decided to return on their own. But earlier this month the Tripartite Commission which supervises repatriation - composed of the governments of Angola and Zambia plus UNHCR - accepted a request from Zambia for one extra year of organised repatriation for Angolans refugees in Zambia who wish to go home.
UNHCR is launching a survey this week in all Angolan refugee camps in Zambia to determine how many refugees wish to return home this year. The results should be known later in March. Preliminary surveys showed that many refugees in Nangweshi - the largest Angolan refugee camp, with 16,000 refugees who mainly fled in the latter stages of the civil war in 2000-2002 - want to return home. UNHCR and Zambian government officials are starting their information campaign by visiting the remote Nangweshi camp on Wednesday. The other two Zambian camps, holding a total of about 10,000 residents, mainly host refugees have who have been in Zambia longer and the number of those who wish to repatriate may be less.
The resumption of the organised voluntary repatriation applies only to Angolan refugees in camps in Zambia. There are a similar number of Angolans living outside camps in Zambia who have merged into the local population. If these Angolans wish to repatriate, UNHCR will provide them with a Voluntary Repatriation Form which will entitle them to assistance inside Angola when they return on their own. UNHCR's organised repatriation of Angolan refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) - the main other country of asylum for Angolans - ended on 31 December 2005. Angolan refugees returning on their own from DRC receive the same assistance as "spontaneous" returnees from Zambia.
The UN refugee agency is awaiting developments on funding the unplanned extension of assisted voluntary repatriation and the results of the survey of refugee intentions before deciding exactly how to help. In 2005, both aircraft and road convoys were used to transport returnees to a region with little basic infrastructure.
UNHCR, in cooperation with the government of South Africa, is also providing assistance to Angolans who wish to return home this year. The estimated 14,000 Angolans in South Africa are dispersed among the local population.
During Angola's 27-year-long war, some half a million Angolans fled their country and millions more were internally displaced. When a peace agreement was signed in 2002, an estimated 457,000 Angolans were living as refugees outside the country's borders. Since then, more than 360,000 are estimated to have come home, including 123,000 brought back by UNHCR, 89,000 who returned on their own but received UNHCR assistance on arrival, and a further 149,000 who repatriated without any UN help. UNHCR has assisted more than 63,000 Angolans to repatriate from Zambia.