70,000 Angolan refugees have spontaneously returned home, UN agency says

70,000 Angolan refugees have spontaneously returned home, UN agency says

Angolan refugee in Zambia's Nangweshi camp
Spurred by the ceasefire early this year between the Government of Angola and the rebel group UNITA, more than 70,000 Angolans have spontaneously returned home from neighbouring countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

Spurred by the ceasefire early this year between the Government of Angola and the rebel group UNITA, more than 70,000 Angolans have spontaneously returned home from neighbouring countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

A spokesman for the agency said that the number includes 47,000 returnees registered by agencies working on behalf of the UN and another 25,000 reported but not yet registered. The returnees are mainly from the four provinces bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, while an estimated 860,000 internally displaced persons are also believed to have returned home from within the borders of Angola during the same period.

Refugees began to return home more rapidly after the death in February of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, and the subsequent ceasefire signed in April between the Government and UNITA that brought the 27-year civil war in the country to an end.

Tripartite Repatriation Agreements for the organized repatriation of Angolan refugees from the region are scheduled to be signed at the end of this month, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said. While organized repatriation efforts are expected to start after the end of the rainy season next May or June, the agency said it will carry out a “repatriation test” from camps near Kimpese in the DRC to Zaïre province in January.

The repatriation effort could be one of the biggest in recent years, with more than 450,000 refugees living in Zambia, the DRC, Namibia, South Africa, and the Republic of Congo, including an estimated 50,000 Angolan refugees in countries outside Africa.