The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in South Africa has encouraged Angolan refugees to return home to help rebuild their country.
"The war in Angola is over and many of the refugees are needed as the country moves forward to development. Many of them are well-educated, which would serve the country well during this time," the UN refugee agency's spokeswoman, Melita Sunjic, told IRIN.
Some 200 people protested outside the Angolan consulate on Thursday over what they alleged was the government's lack of support for Angolan refugees living in the country.
"We want to continue our studies before we return, and for that we need sponsorship from the authorities in Luanda. We don't understand why some [Angolan] students studying in South Africa have received financial assistance, while others are struggling," said Dinies da Costa, one of the leaders of the demonstration.
There were also concerns among the Angolan community in South Africa over the lack of employment opportunities in their home country. "Angola is our home country and we do want to go back at some stage, but we are aware that it is difficult to make a living there without education. At least if we finish our education we can contribute to the upliftment of the society," Da Costa explained.
The Angolan ambassador to South Africa, Isaac Maria dos Anjos, denied the accusation of discrimination against Angolan refugees studying in South Africa. "Of the 2,500 students, very few have help from the government. Some are helped by the Sonogol oil company, but most of the students receive money from their parents in Angola, which helps with fees."
Last year a tripartite agreement signed by South Africa, Angola and the UNHCR laid the groundwork for voluntary repatriation of some 13,000 Angolans. But encouraging Angolan refugees in South Africa to return to their home country will not be easy.
"Unlike Angolan refugees in other countries, who are keen to return home even during the rainy season, there may be a few challenges in trying to convince those still living in South Africa. Many of them are well-connected and have integrated well into South Africa society. Angolan refugees who have lived in South Africa have an advantage because many of them speak English. This skill is particularly useful now, as trade increases with the country," Sunjic said.
She noted that moves were underway to find opportunities for returnees in South African companies wishing to expand into Angola.
"It is very important that they go back home because we need the skills they learnt in South Africa - they have learnt much about the private sector and how business works. We desperately need this in Angola, but they must work with the government to put in place suitable conditions for the private sector to develop," dos Anjos said.
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