Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 13:37 GMT

Angola-Zambia: Refugees get cold feet

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 30 March 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Angola-Zambia: Refugees get cold feet, 30 March 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49db0695c.html [accessed 17 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

LUSAKA, 30 March 2009 (IRIN) - Seven years after peace returned to Angola, refugees from the three-decade long civil war are sending mixed signals about wanting to be repatriated from neighbouring Zambia.

About 27,000 Angolans are still in Zambia, after more than 74,000 returned to their homeland during a four-year exercise coordinated by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the host government that ended in 2007. 

The UNHCR has reopened the repatriation window after about 7,000 Angolan refugees, or almost a quarter, indicated a willingness to return earlier this year. But a survey in March 2009 by the agency and the host government at western Zambia's Mayukwayukwa refugee camp, one of the largest, found only 2.5 percent were willing to return.

"The objective of the survey was to ascertain the number of Angolan refugees willing to repatriate, in order to adequately mobilize and allocate resources to support the repatriation exercise and identify areas of return in Angola at the municipal and commune level, as required by the Angolan government, for reception and reintegration purposes," James Lynch, the UNHCR country director for Zambia, told IRIN. 

"It seemed there was little interest among the Angolan refugees in Mayukwayukwa to repatriate." The latest survey of the about 10,000 Angolan refugees in Mayukwayukwa found only 251 wanted immediate repatriation, a further 284 (2.8 percent) said they could repatriate in 2010 and 756 (7.6 percent) in 2011.

Zambia began the voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees in 2003 under a tripartite agreement between the governments of Angola and Zambia, and the UNHCR. The exercise ended in 2007 after over 74,000 Angolans were helped home, while many more living outside the camps have returned on their own accord.

"After the suspension of organized large-scale returns, voluntary repatriation is being resumed in May 2009 as spontaneous assisted repatriation, with UNHCR supporting refugees with transportation and a cash grant to help with their reintegration in Angola," Lynch said.

"The refugees have cited many reasons for not wanting to repatriate; among them, having lived in Zambia for a long time, being born here, marriage to Zambians, need for children to complete education, and more self-reliance opportunities in Zambia."

Government becoming impatient

James Mfula, a deputy permanent secretary in Zambia's Interior ministry, told IRIN there was mounting concern in government over the low numbers of Angolan refugees willing to return home.

"Angola is at peace now, so we are encouraging all Angolan refugees to consider going back home to help in the reconstruction of their country. It's not good to be refugees in perpetuity," Mfula said.

Refugees resident in Zambia are granted refugee status even when married to Zambian spouses, but government is non-committal as to whether the refugees remaining after the next repatriation exercise finishes would be granted residence status or declared prohibited immigrants.

The Zambian government indicated in 2008 that it intended developing the former refugee camps as skills training centres. Lynch told IRIN that Mayukwayukwa and Meheba, the two camps hosting Angolan refugees, were likely to be closed when the repatriation exercise ended.

"This will depend on how many people repatriate," he said. "It's not only Angolans living in these two refugee settlements, but other nationalities as well, like Somalis, Rwandans, Burundis and Congolese."

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