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Former UNITA combatants transferred to special camp in east of Zambia

Briefing notes

Former UNITA combatants transferred to special camp in east of Zambia

2 November 2001

UNHCR has transferred over a thousand former UNITA combatants from Nangweshi, a refugee camp near the Angolan border, to a special camp for former combatants that was set up last year in the east of Zambia.

A total of 1,065 former combatants and families were transferred in October. Another group of about 300 is still expecting transfer. They had arrived in Zambia last year after the fall of Jamba, the UNITA stronghold in Cuando Cubango province. The group included high commanders of the UNITA rebel movements. All of those transferred have laid down their arms - combatants who do not do so are not entitled to refugee status according to the 1951 Geneva Convention. After a reasonable period of observation they can apply for refugee status determination, which in their case was carried out in July this year.

The move was agreed between UNHCR and the government of Zambia to address concerns over the civilian character of Nangweshi refugee camp. The camp holds over 15,000 Angolan refugees and we need to avoid risks of militarisation or recruitment in the camp.

The transfer, over some 2,000 kms, was carried out by International Organisation for Migration (IOM) bus. The trip took about two days each time. The former combatants joined about 1,200 others who were already in Ukwimi, a former camp for Mozambican refugees which was rehabilitated in October last year in order to remove former Angolan combatants from civilian camps in Zambia's western and north-western provinces.

Meanwhile, the situation along the Angolan border is still worrisome, with continuous arrivals from Angola into Zambia's Western province. An estimated additional 1,000 people have arrived over the past two days in Mambolomoka and Sikongo, in the south-west of Zambia, and about 200 further north, in the Zambezi district. New arrivals report continuous fighting as reason for fleeing. Many others have been displaced inside Angola, fleeing north along the border with Zambia as a government offensive against UNITA positions in the area seems to intensify. The new arrivals are in deplorable condition, mainly due to the lack of humanitarian assistance in this part of Angola and the fighting. The majority are children and there are also many amputees from mine accidents or from recent fighting.

UNHCR is still transferring new arrivals away from the border to Nangweshi temporary extension as quickly as possible. We have seven trucks available and are able to transport an average of 200 people a day over the 140 km of bad roads. Conditions on the roads are gradually becoming more difficult as rains have started in certain parts of the province. In Nangweshi, our health partner African Humanitarian Action is vaccinating children against polio and measles and providing Vitamin A to them. Refugees also receive food and shelter as well as blankets and utensils.

Refugees report difficulties in crossing the border, because of military activities on the other side. Some of them also have to pay a fee to cross the Cuando Cubango river by canoe. The river flows in Angola but at some point forms the boundary between Angola and Zambia. Further north in the Zambezi district, across from Angola's Moxico province, a couple of hundred new arrivals were recorded over the past four days, a sign that people who had been displaced towards the north have also now started crossing into Zambia.

Since last year over 10,000 Angolan asylum seekers have fled to Zambia, bringing the total of Angolan refugees to 208,000 in the country.