Angolan refugees living in South Africa can now return home with the assistance of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, an official said on Monday.
"There are currently 13,000 Angolan refugees in South Africa. In the next few weeks we will have an estimate of the people who want to go back," UNHCR spokesperson Melita Sunjic told IRIN.
Until 2002, when a peace accord between government and UNITA rebels was signed, there were around 441,000 Angolan refugees living in neighbouring countries. Since then 218,000 Angolan refugees have returned home, either on their own or with assistance from UNHCR repatriation operations, the agency said.
UNHCR estimates that some 223,000 Angolan refugees currently remain in the major asylum countries - the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Zambia, Namibia and the Republic of Congo - as well as about 14,000 in South Africa and Botswana.
All Angolan asylum seekers in South Africa who held refugee identification papers and were granted asylum-seeker status either on or before 20 June 2003 are eligible for UNHCR's assistance.
After refugees register for repatriation, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) will organise air transport to Luanda, from where UNHCR will assist them with onward transport to their home provinces.
According to Sunjic, many Angolan refugees in South Africa have professional backgrounds. "They are concerned whether they will find jobs when they go back home. However, Angola currently needs skilled professionals who speak English, so they have a better chance of getting well-paid jobs back home," she said.
In a resumption of the repatriation programme following the rainy season, over 300 Angolan refugees who had been living in DRC's southwestern province of Katanga for more than 20 years, returned home to Moxico province in eastern Angola in July.
The World Food Programme is providing the returnees with a two-month supply of food, while Medicine Sans Frontiers-Belgium is looking after their medical needs.
About 145,000 Angolan refugees are expected to return from neighbouring countries this year, with UNHCR assisting some 90,000. Angolans will receive repatriation assistance from the UNHCR until October 2005.