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Solution must be found for thousands of Congolese refugees in Angola – UN

Solution must be found for thousands of Congolese refugees in Angola – UN

Congolese refugees in Moxico, Angola
Now that the repatriation of over 400,000 Angolan refugees has been completed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the next challenge for Angola is finding a solution for the thousands of Congolese refugees residing in the country, many of whom do not want to return to their homeland.

High Commissioner António Guterres yesterday visited the Vianna Refugee Camp which shelters 7,000 Congolese refugees who have been living in Angola since fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1960s during the separatist conflict in Katanga province when the country was known as Zaire. Most of these people were born in Angola and are the children of original refugees, and many have stated that they do not wish to return to their homeland.

UNHCR believes that permanent residency in Angola is the best solution for these long-standing refugees, and is planning to register those in the Vianna camp and others later this year to compile detailed data on this group.

The Angolan Government has indicated that it is willing to join efforts to find a solution for the Congolese refugees, but the lack of thorough information has so far impeded progress.

“When it comes to hosting refugees, the extreme generosity of African nations is impressive and should serve as an example for other nations to follow,” Mr. Guterres said.

Mr. Guterres just completed a four-day visit to Angola and attended a ceremony on Tuesday marking the end of the official close of the UNHCR-backed repatriation programme which began in 2003. Of the 457,000 Angolans who lived outside their homeland at the end of the almost three-decade-long civil war in 2002, nearly 410,000 have returned home.

Of these repatriated refugees, UNHCR organized the return of 138,594 Angolans and assisted 116,856 who returned on their own. An additional 154,000 are believed to have repatriated without the agency’s help.

“Contrary to what many people believe, the vast majority of refugees do not want to emigrate to a rich country,” Mr. Guterres said at the ceremony in Luanda, the capital, attended by representatives of countries which had hosted Angolan refugees. “The majority want to go back home.”

Also at the event, Angolan Prime Minister Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos said that his country would do its utmost to ensure the sustainable reintegration of those who had recently returned home by providing jobs, schools and hospitals.

“This is a very important moment and this operation is particularly important, not only because of the number of persons repatriated and the countries involved, but also – and for me this is the most important fact – because the operation was carried out without any accidents or incidents,” he said.

Recently, UNHCR has focused on facilitating the reintegration of Angolan refugees, aiming to act as a catalyst to involve the Government, other international bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in urgent development programmes.

“UN agencies have eventually – and with some difficulty – moved from the humanitarian phase to a development-oriented one,” said Enrique Valles, the UNHCR officer in charge of Angolan reintegration. “However, the humanitarian situation in the areas of return remains fragile.”