(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

Refugee returns in full swing from Zambia, DRC

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, expects to repatriate over half the 71,420 Angolan refugees remaining in camps and settlements in Zambia by the end of the year, the organisation said in a progress report released this week.

Earlier this month, with the help of the International Organisation for Migration, UNHCR began airlifting Angolan refugees from Mongu in western Zambia to Lumbala N'Guimbo in eastern Angola. A new overland corridor was also opened On 17 August when an inaugural convoy of 411 returnees travelled from Meheba in Zambia via Jimbe and Caianda to Luau and Luena in eastern Angola.

UNHCR expects to assist some 40,000 refugees to return from Zambia this year, the agency said in its August overview of major refugee developments in Africa.

The neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was another major asylum country during Angola's three-decade civil war and around 45,000 Angolans took refuge there. UNHCR plans to assist some 32,000 of them to return home this year, with the remaining 13,000 scheduled for repatriation during 2005. So far this year, about 7,000 Angolan refugees have returned from DRC, mainly by land, the agency said.

In all, during 2004 a total of 145,000 Angolans are expected to head home from asylum countries, 90,000 of them with UNHCR assistance. The remainder are expected to make their own way back.

"When the peace accords were signed in April 2002, about 441,000 Angolans refugees were estimated to be in bordering countries. Since then, an estimated 218,000 have returned home, including 76,000 in 2003 under UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme. We estimate some 223,000 Angolan refugees currently remain in the major asylum countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Namibia and Republic of Congo - in addition to 14,000 in South Africa and Botswana," the agency said.

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