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UN warns of severe conditions facing refugees returning to Angola

UN warns of severe conditions facing refugees returning to Angola

With a changed political landscape prompting thousands of Angolans to return to their country, the United Nations refugee agency warned today of the harsh social and economic conditions prevailing there.

“The absorption capacity in Angola for the return of an estimated 4 million internally displaced persons and some 470,000 refugees is extremely weak,” said Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In addition to facing severe food insecurity and malnutrition, Angola suffers a lack of potable water as well as poor sanitation, shelter, health and education facilities. “Many parts of the country are inaccessible because of landmines and destroyed roads and bridges,” Mr. Janowski told the press in Geneva.

UNHCR estimates that nearly 8,000 Angolans have spontaneously returned to their homeland from the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the beginning of the year, while another 4,500 have returned from Zambia. “The figures are based on the number of Angolans who have reported to UNHCR that they were leaving,” Mr. Janowski explained. “Many do not report to UNHCR, however, so the actual number of spontaneous returns could be much higher.”

Many more Angolans are expected to repatriate once the agency starts its organized repatriation programme next year. “UNHCR is deploying staff and resources in specific areas of return – as much as possible and with the limited funds we have available,” Mr. Janowski said. The agency hopes to open field offices in Moxico Province, where the majority of the refugees will repatriate, by the end of August.

UNHCR has also set aside half a million dollars – out of an estimated $1.87 million initial budget presented to donors – for Angolan returnees this year. “This money has allowed UNHCR staff from Luanda and Uige to field missions to possible areas of return,” Mr. Janowski said, adding that the funds were also used to send relief equipment and supplies to the affected areas.

UNHCR has run programmes for internally displaced persons in Angola’s war-ravaged Uige and Zaire provinces since July 2000. In Maquela de Zombo, three UNHCR-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing material and medical assistance to returnees.