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Focus on repatriation of Angolan refugees from Zambia

[Zambia] Kala Refugee Camp in Zambia. IRIN
War caused thousands of Angolans to flee to Zambia
On Friday last week, some 387 Angolan refugees left Zambia for their country of origin in what has been described as a "historic" repatriation exercise. However, Nyapenzo Kawena was not one of them. After spending close to a decade in Zambia as a refugee she was told she could not make the journey home. Of 500 refugees who would make their way home, 113 were declared not medically fit enough to return to their war-ravaged country. Kawena, aged about 60, and her three grandchildren were not on the list of refugees returning home on 11 July because one of her legs had been amputated after it was damaged in a land mine explosion some five years ago. Also unable to make the journey home this time around was Roza Kwenzo, because she is five months pregnant. She had hoped officials from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), who are facilitating the repatriation, would include her on the list of returnees but she will remain in Solwezi, more than 600 km from the Zambian capital, Lusaka, until after she gives birth. "The strict rule is that no refugee who is deemed to be vulnerable either because of a disability or because of suspected ill health would be allowed to undertake the long journey back to Angola until they are given a clean bill of health by MSF [Medicins Sans Frontiers]," said Kenneth Lingunja, a community development officer with Lutheran World Federation, an implementing partner of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Consequently, the departure gate at Meheba refugee camp, home to about 45,000 Angolan refugees in Zambia, was the site of both joy and pain as some refugees were turned back while others were allowed to leave. Anxiety was written on the faces of the refugees who evidently wanted to return home, in good or bad health, and some wept openly. "What am I going to do now?" asked Kawena through an interpreter as she leaned on her walking stick, despair in her eyes. "I have sold whatever I had to survive on, but now they are telling me I cannot go back home to Kazombo with my grandchildren... all because I have one leg. This is not fair." Other refugees, returning home at last, had reason to be happy. Davis Kawika, 43, had high hopes for his prospects in Angola. "I have been in Zambia for 33 years and it's the only home I have really known, but going back home to Angola makes me happy because I know the prospects for a better life are greater there. I am a qualified teacher but as long as I am refugee here, I shall remain on contract as an ordinary teacher and never get promoted. In Angola this will change because it is my country," he said. He was "grateful to the Zambian government for providing me with a home away from home," for more than three decades. Ahmed Gubartalla, the UNHCR representative in Zambia described the repatriation, stalled last month because of a land mine threat, as historic. "There are about 200,000 Angolan refugees in Zambia and we hope to repatriate 20,000 this year, and an additional 40,000 next year. This is historical for all of us." Up to 25,000 refugees have so far registered to return home voluntarily from Zambia. "I was born here [in Meheba, Zambia]. I have learnt the traditions here and, really, this is home for me. But Angola is where I come from, so even though I would like to stay, I have to go," said 26-year-old Antonio Sakuhena as he struggled to load his belongings onto the bus. Among the returning refugees are children whose only knowledge of Angola comes from stories told to them by family and friends. "I am told it is a nice country with plenty of fish compared to here, and since I like fish, I am excited about going there," said 10-year-old Kutemba Kafwebu. Angolan refugees poured into Zambia from the early 1960s, fleeing the internal war between the forces of President Eduardo dos Santos and those loyal to the late rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The death of Savimbi in early 2002 and a subsequent ceasefire agreement sawc calm return to Angola. The returning refugees are aware of the fact that the road ahead of them is bound to be difficult. "It is really up to us to rebuild our country. I intend to get a piece of land and engage in farming, so that I can feed myself and my family when I return home," an eager Sakuhena told IRIN. The UNHCR, in cooperation with the government of Angola and countries of asylum, wants to repatriate up to 440,000 Angolan refugees from Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Namibia. This is the third voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees organised by the UNHCR. The governments of Denmark, Japan and the United States have given financial support.

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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