Helping Angola’s refugees return

5 June 2006

South Africa, Angola and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have launched a campaign to encourage and assist Angolan refugees in South Africa to return home.

Most of the estimated 460 000 Angolans who fled their country during 27 years of war – plus millions more displaced inside Angola – have returned home since a 2002 agreement between the Angolan government and the Unita rebel movement opened the way for reconstruction and reconciliation.

Most of the nearly 100 000 refugees still outside the country are in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but an estimated 14 000 Angolan refugees and asylum seekers are living in various parts of South Africa.

The repatriation is completely voluntary, but help from the UNHCR will end in October, when the rainy season in Angola makes travel difficult.

Assistance offered by the commission includes free air tickets for refugees and zero taxes on belongings brought into Angola.

About half the Angolans who could receive repatriation assistance are registered refugees and the rest are asylum seekers who have not yet been processed.

“We hope Angolans here in South Africa will use the opportunity as a passport to get another chance to contribute to the betterment of their country,” Jeff Maqetuka, director-general of the Department of Home Affairs, told journalists at the launch of the programme in Pretoria last month.

“Even though the programme is voluntary, we would really want to encourage our fellow friends, brothers and sisters to embrace this opportunity to go and contribute towards the rebuilding of their country,” Maqetuka said.

UNHCR spokesperson Phumla Rulashe told BuaNews that over 3 500 Angolan refugees that had settled in countries such as Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo had already been encouraged to return home as their country was now geared for stability.

Abel Mbilinyi, UNHCR deputy regional representative for South Africa, said that voluntary repatriation “remains one of the best options for the UNHCR and refugees because it ends the cycle of exile.”

As the number of remaining refugees dwindles, the UNHCR has shifted its focus from repatriation to reintegration programmes in Angola for those who have returned.

This year it has prepared detailed studies in Angola of the areas of greatest return, setting the priorities for development spending to ensure that returnees find life in their home areas sustainable.

SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews

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