As over 500 returnees make their way home, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Zambia told IRIN on Thursday it would be scaling up the voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees.
Some 509 refugees began the two-day journey home from Zambia at 8:30 am on Thursday, UNHCR spokesman Kelvin Shimo said.
According to a UNHCR statement, this was the second convoy to leave from Mahebe refugee settlement, in Zambia's northwestern Solwezi district. Some 387 refugees returned to the Cazombo municipality in Angola's eastern Moxico province in the first repatriation on Friday, 11 July.
"UNHCR Zambia has decided that successive Angolan repatriation convoys will be undertaken on a weekly basis. The idea is to adjust the numbers of returnees upwards every week, in coordination with UNHCR Angola, so that as many refugees as possible return before the onset of the rainy season in October/November," the statement added.
The agency said it hoped to repatriate about 20,000 Angolan refugees by the end of 2003.
Tens of thousands of refugees have returned under their own steam from Zambia since the end of the Angolan civil war in April 2002.
Shimo told IRIN the latest group of returnees would spend the evening on the Zambian side of the border and enter Angola on Friday.
"The convoy will then proceed to Cazombo reception centre, where the refugees will spend three days before moving to their various areas of origin," he added.
The refugees would all receive land mine awareness training, information on HIV/AIDS "and other necessary medical assistance" while at the reception centre.
UNHCR would also assist the returning refugees until they could become self-sufficient.
"They will receive a supply of food rations, a construction kit to assist in the building of their homes, blankets, soap, kitchen items and buckets. They will continue to be assisted with food rations until the next harvest in about April next year," Shimo noted.
He stressed that assistance would "only be provided upon production of the VRF (voluntary repatriation form) handed to all those departing from Zambia, which will be used as a way of identifying the bona fide refugees" entitled to assistance.
"Later in the year, as they prepare for the agricultural season, they will receive seeds and tools in their home communities to support them to become self-reliant," he added.
UNHCR said over 25,000 Angolan refugees have so far registered to return from Mahebe, out of a camp population of 45,000. Zambia hosts about 200,000 Angolan refugees.
Transportation for the repatriation of the refugees has been provided by the International Organisation for Migration, Shimo said.
Repatriation programmes for the 440,000 Angolan refugees in the region, that fled the country's 27-year-long civil war, have also begun in Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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