UN agency racing to prepare for return of 200,000 Angolan refugees

UN agency racing to prepare for return of 200,000 Angolan refugees

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The United Nations refugee agency today said it is racing against the clock to prepare for the repatriation of more than 200,000 Angolans living in neighbouring countries who have indicated their wish to return home.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva said the agency estimates that more than 200,000 Angolans in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have expressed a willingness to take part in the return movement, which is expected to start in May or June, and nearly half a million Angolans driven from their country by 27 years of civil war could eventually go back.

The agency has stockpiled relief items – including blankets, kitchen sets and cans – in Lusaka, Zambia, in preparation for the imminent repatriation, and is purchasing more items this week.

Meanwhile, non-governmental organizations working with UNHCR have started looking at transportation, while the DRC's Bas-Congo region will soon organize a “go-and-see” visit for refugee representatives. UNHCR in Angola warns that more information activities, de-mining and mine-awareness training are necessary before the repatriation can start in earnest. The road conditions will also constitute a significant obstacle.

So far, more than 90,000 Angolans have returned home following a ceasefire agreement signed in April 2002. “The number of spontaneous returns is now said to have dwindled in some of the provinces with the beginning of the rainy season and the news of an imminent UNHCR repatriation effort,” spokesman Peter Kessler said.

The agency has launched an appeal for $34.5 million to pay for repatriation and reintegration of Angolan refugees until the end of 2004. So far only $6.5 million has been received.