Kicking off a new phase in its Angola return operation, the United Nations refugee agency today began repatriating Angolans who have been living outside camps and settlements in the western Congolese region of Kasangulu.
Until now, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) had been assisting the repatriation of only camp-based Angolan refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), helping more than 42,000 to return to Angola since 2003. But the 250 who inaugurated this new phase of the programme were part of a group of almost 2,000 non-camp based refugees settled in Kasangulu, south of the capital, Kinshasa.
According to UNHCR, some have been waiting for more than 20 years for the chance to return to their home areas – mainly in Bengo province near the Angolan capital, Luanda. Some of them had sought asylum in the DRC during Angola's war of independence in 1972. Others fled Angola in 1975, when fighting flared up again after the country's independence.
This morning, the first 250 refugees left Kasangulu in a convoy of 10 trucks, as well as a bus for vulnerable refugees in need of special attention. Accompanied by an ambulance and a UNHCR escort, the convoy headed for the border point at Lufu, where UNHCR Angola and the Angolan authorities took over.
The returnees will stay for three days in Angola’s Kiowa transit centre of Mbanza Congo. They will receive a return package of food rations, construction kits, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, blankets, mats and jerry cans, before being assisted back to their home areas.
Like the Angolan refugees formerly hosted in southern DRC's Katanga province, whose repatriation was completed in May, the refugees in Kasangulu are eager to go back to Angola after two decades of asylum. The younger refugees, who grew up in exile, know little about daily life in their home country, but they are excited about what to expect back in Angola, UNHCR says.
The next return convoy from Kasangulu is scheduled for Friday. Through twice-weekly convoys, UNHCR expects to complete within four to five weeks the repatriation of the 2,000 who wish to return from the area.
Some 22,000 Angolan refugees remain based in camps and settlements in the DRC, assisted by humanitarian aid from UNHCR, the World Food Programme and implementing partners. Bas Congo province also hosts a number of spontaneously-settled Angolan refugees who are not living in camps or settlements.