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Some Angolan refugees reluctant to return home

[Namibia] Angolan refugee Natalia Daniel. IRIN
Angolan refugee Natalia Daniel is reluctant to return home
While many Angolan refugees in Namibia are said to be eager to return to their country of origin, some based outside the border town of Rundu are not entirely convinced that this would be in their best interests. They fled the civil war which ravaged Angola for 27 years and are now reluctant to swop a relatively stable life for the uncertainties of repatriation to Angola. IRIN visited the Kasava refugee transit centre, where asylum seekers are housed before being transported to the main Namibian settlement for refugees at Osire. Next to the transit centre in Kasava is a small village of traditional mud and straw huts populated by 409 Angolan refugees. Over the years, the refugees at Kasava have settled into a lifestyle very similar to that of rural Namibians in the Kavango region. They farm cattle, grow maize and other crops, their children attend local primary and secondary schools, and NGOs run a kindergarten and adult education classes in their village. Aid workers told IRIN that the Kasava refugees may be reluctant to return to Angola because of the uncertainty of what awaited them there. "When we ask, they say they don't want to go back to Angola - they fear war is still there, or is still possible," an aid worker explained. Refugees in the main camp at Osire, 250 km north of the capital, Windhoek, live in a much more restricted environment. Their movements in and out of the camp are controlled, and they have to have permission from the camp administrator to exit the camp. None of the refugees in Osire own cattle, as there's simply no grazing land. "And it's close to commercial farms - refugee cattle could move into commercial farms and create problems," said UN refugee agency (UNHCR) spokesman Esegiel Xamseb.
[Namibia] Refugees in Kasava farm cattle. 200421611
Refugees in Kasava farm cattle
He noted that the "only difference is these in Kasava are cattle farmers, and the ones in Osire are mostly surviving on support from UNHCR and implementing partners." IRIN was unfortunately denied access by the Namibian authorities to the Osire camp, where some 14,000 refugees are housed. The Angolans at Kasava have been almost fully integrated into rural Namibian society. Apart from their cattle, which provide an income, they also run tuckshops where locals can buy cakes, soft drinks and beer. Many have also given birth to children, and are very aware that the new additions are Namibians. NOT READY TO RETURN IRIN spoke to refugee Abel Kambinda, who said he was in his mid-30s. He had been in Kasava for four years with his wife and three children, the youngest of which was born in the settlement. He also has seven head of cattle and a goat. "There are quite a few Namibian babies here," he said.
[Namibia] A number of children have been born to Angolan refugees in Namibia. 20042168
A number of children have been born to Angolan refugees in Namibia
He was adamant that he was not prepared to return to Angola. "It's okay here [in Kasava]. I want to remain here in Namibia, I don't want to go back to Angola. When the war started, our families ran [to an area near] Menongue [in the southeastern Kuando Kubango province] to escape the fighting." From there they had made their way across the border. "At this time I'm not thinking about going to Angola. If the war has stopped - we'll see later, not now," he added. When told that the war was over and peace was a reality in Angola, Kambinda remained sceptical. He argued that a resumption of hostilities in Angola was still possible. "I don't want to go back because there could still be war there." Another refugee, Natalia Daniel, said she wanted to go back to Angola some day, "but not now, maybe later". She was concerned about her safety and that of her husband and eight children, should they return to Angola - where landmines remain a major threat. "The war is still there," she said. Despite the peace accord between the former rebel group, UNITA, and the government, signed in April 2002, which brought the cessation of hostilities, Daniel remained unconvinced that peace had finally come to Angola. She also expressed satisfaction with life in Kasava, where she had given birth to her youngest child. Apart from monthly rations from the World Food Programme, refugees in Kasava and Osire are also given basic provisions such as soap, cooking oil and blankets.
[Namibia] Angolan refugee Abel Kambinda. 20042165
Angolan refugee Abel Kambinda
10,000 TO BE REPATRIATED Some 4,500 refugees were voluntarily repatriated to Angola by UNHCR last year in vehicle convoys and by raft across the Kavango river. The programme was interrupted by the onset of rains, but will resume in March. UNHCR told IRIN that it hoped to repatriate about 10,000 refugees from Namibia to Angola this year. "If the issue of airlifting [refugees] is resolved by the tripartite commission [comprising representatives from Angola, Namibia and UNHCR], which is meeting in March," said Xamseb. Airlifting would increase the number of refugees that could be returned. "What we are looking at doing is intensifying our mass information campaign - the uncertainty [in Kasava] might be because they really do not know what to expect on the other side. We are looking at giving them the necessary information and, if possible, we'll see if we can organise go-and-see visits for them, so they can see the areas they are going to be repatriated to are safe and there's at least basic infrastructure there," explained Xamseb. The go-and-see visits are a critical component of the voluntary repatriation programme, because they allow refugee representatives to observe conditions on the ground and report back to their colleagues in the camps. "Maybe then we can see whether the government of Angola cannot assist them with, maybe, seeds and animals to proceed with their farming activities," Xamseb added. As one aid worker, who wished to remain anonymous, explained "it would be nice if their reception in Angola is upgraded, if there can be more done for them". "In Angola they should be better taken care of, as that will increase the repatriation [numbers]. If they are well received in Angola, it will trigger more people to go back," the aid worker added. INTEGRATION A Rundu resident told IRIN that "Angolans cross over [the Kavango river] regularly, each and every day". "They normally come here for shopping; some come for treatment at the hospital. Even when they were fighting [during the war], they would come here for treatment. When the water level is low they come and sell firewood and reeds - most of the people in Kavango use reeds to fence off their homes, so they [Angolans] sell that to buy some maize here," she said. Namibians along the border were used to seeing Angolans in their towns, she explained. Likewise, the Namibians living around Kasava were used to their Angolan guests - IRIN found several of them enjoying the beer available at one of the huts in Kasava. Xamseb concluded that UNHCR would have to do a lot more to convince the Kasava refugees of the benefits of repatriating to Angola. He said: "We can do a video show, and we can have talks with the community to explain the political and economic situation to them. They [Kasava refugees] live a life not much different from the local [Namibian] community. [So] we have to intensify our mass information campaign, telling them they will be needed for the infrastructural development of the country [Angola], that they are the ones who will have to help develop the country."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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