Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2016, 09:30 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Angola

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Angola , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 24 October 2016]
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.

Millions of Angolans remained uprooted at the end of 2002, including 2 million to 3.5 million persons displaced within Angola and nearly 410,000 refugees and asylum seekers outside the country.

Approximately 190,000 Angolan refugees lived in Zambia, some 150,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, up to 30,000 in Congo-Brazzaville, about 25,000 in Namibia, 5,000 in South Africa, 2,000 in Botswana, and 7,000 new Angolan asylum applicants in industrialized countries.

Massive new population movements occurred during 2002. An estimated 200,000 or more Angolans became newly uprooted during the year, while nearly 900,000 previously uprooted Angolans returned home to restart their lives.

About 12,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa continued to live in Angola.

Background Civil war has ravaged Angola since 1975, despite short interludes of peace linked to peace accords and fragile power-sharing agreements that ultimately failed.

Rebels known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) battled government forces for political control of the country and its lucrative natural resources of oil and diamonds.

According to most estimates, 500,000 to 1 million Angolans died of war-related causes.

UNITA rebels at peak strength held more than half the country's territory in the 1980s and 1990s. Government troops gained a clear upper-hand during 2000–2001, regaining huge amounts of territory and reducing rebel forces to fewer than 10,000 combatants – one-fifth their previous troop strength, according to military analysts.

By the end of 2001, UNITA rebels appeared to be on the verge of defeat, but continued to demonstrate an ability to launch attacks and displace tens of thousands of additional people as a deliberate tactic of war.

Government military strategies also forced thousands of people from their homes and into overcrowded towns – sometimes located far from their communities of origin. Combatants on both sides committed human rights violations.

War Ends in 2002 The Angolan army began 2002 by pressing its military advantage over UNITA rebels and forcibly uprooting populations in UNITA territory to deprive the rebels of support.

The course of the war changed dramatically in February, when rebel leader Jonas Savimbi died in battle. The two sides agreed to a cease-fire two months later. "In a matter of days, Angola was transformed," a UN report marveled.

The government and UNITA signed a comprehensive peace agreement in August, bringing Angola's 27 years of warfare to an official end. UNITA soldiers and their families congregated at more than 40 sites throughout the country to disarm and begin the process of demobilization.

The government army accepted 5,000 UNITA soldiers into its own ranks.

At year's end, many rural areas still lacked functioning local governments, and some observers expressed concern that thousands of UNITA weapons might remain hidden. But a general climate of optimism prevailed. "There are at last real prospects for lasting peace in Angola," a UN report boasted in December.

New Population Movements

The final months of war, followed by sudden peace, triggered massive new population upheaval in Angola during 2002.

The last gasp of violence and human rights violations early in the year pushed tens of thousands of people from their homes. Ironically, the April cease-fire unleashed even more displacement as 50,000 or more people capitalized on the cease-fire to escape UNITA territory for the first time in years.

Thousands of residents in remote, rural areas converged on provincial capitals and other towns in search of food, medicines, and other assistance that the war and UNITA policies had long denied them.

A UN humanitarian report described the conditions of newly displaced families as "appalling." Several thousand new Angolan refugees fled to neighboring Zambia.

The war's end also stimulated massive movements back home by populations long uprooted.

An estimated 800,000 or more internally displaced Angolans returned to their homes or moved to new areas of the country for permanent settlement, and at least 80,000 refugees repatriated from neighboring countries without assistance.

Most returning refugees streamed into the four border provinces of Uige, Zaire, Moxico, and Cuando Cubango.

In several provinces, government officials forced thousands of displaced persons to return home against their will, Human Rights Watch reported. The journey home was often perilous because of harassment, rapes, thefts, and extortion by soldiers, police, and bandits lurking along roads.

Humanitarian Conditions The end of war did not end Angola's humanitarian emergency. The onset of peace revealed the depth of deprivation hidden in many areas of the country.

Angolans faced "a generalized humanitarian crisis of immense proportions," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in July.

A report by UN humanitarian agencies concluded that "during 2002, the humanitarian crisis in Angola ... [is] one of the worst in the world."

The war's conclusion opened large areas of the country to relief workers for the first time in many years, and the conditions they found "were truly shocking," UN relief officials stated. In newly accessible areas, child malnutrition was at critical levels in half the locations reached by aid workers.

Nearly 2 million Angolans required food assistance.

"Malnutrition is widespread, the mortality and morbidity rates are very high, return areas are mined, and there is little infrastructure for ... basic education, health, and water delivery services," a report by UN aid agencies warned.

Child mortality rates were among the highest in the world. Nearly 2 percent of all births resulted in maternal deaths – a rate more than 10 times higher than the maternal death rate in neighboring Namibia, according to health workers. The long years of upheaval left 100,000 Angolan children separated from their families.

Hundreds of thousands of uprooted people returned to home areas left devastated by the war and bereft of basic services, ensuring a long and difficult rebuilding process. "The potential for epidemics in urban areas and in [displacement] camps remains high," reported the U.S. government's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Hundreds of people died or suffered crippling injuries in landmine accidents during the year. Fear of landmines, as well as bad roads and unsafe airstrips, blocked nearly one-third of Angola from aid programs at year's end. Nearly 80 percent of the country had been inaccessible for security reasons when the year began.

UN and private international relief organizations appealed to donor countries for $296 million during 2002 to address Angola's needs, but donors provided $94 million less than requested.

Diplomats and aid workers urged the Angolan government to spend more of its oil revenues – worth hundreds of millions of dollars – on services to alleviate the population's suffering. Angolan authorities allocated $50 million to population reintegration programs during the year, according to the UN.

Despite the daunting challenges, 10 UN humanitarian agencies, 112 international aid organizations, and more than 350 local charitable groups provided relief and reconstruction assistance, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Humanitarian agencies conducted more than 400 rapid assessments of humanitarian conditions. Health workers administered 4 million vaccinations against polio and 1 million inoculations against measles. Forty therapeutic feeding centers opened after the cease-fire to help some 100,000 severely malnourished children.

Aid programs sought to rehabilitate the country for the long-term by repairing or constructing more than 400 water systems and distributing agricultural tools, fertilizers, and 5,000 tons of seeds to more than 500,000 families.

Landmine clearance teams completed assessments at several hundred resettlement and returnee sites by year's end, although most of the country's estimated 700,000 mines remained in place. The rapid movement of families toward home made demining activities "more urgent than ever," a UN official stated.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened seven offices throughout the country and fielded two additional protection officers to monitor refugee repatriations.

Angolan authorities completed a reintegration plan known as the "Provincial Emergency Plans of Action for Resettlement and Return" and set legal standards for minimum services that should exist in all returnee areas.

Government plans, however, were unable to keep pace with the massive and rapid return home of uprooted Angolans.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

About 12,000 Congolese refugees from the Katanga Province of Congo-Kinshasa remained in Angola at year's end. Most have lived in Angola for 10 to 20 years.

About 6,000 lived in or near Viana camp, on the periphery of the capital, Luanda, where they were dependent on food aid. The camp offered health care, a primary school for 700 refugee students, and skills training in handicrafts, tailoring, computers, and other income-generating projects.

UNHCR handed the refugees more responsibilities for camp management in an effort to encourage self-sufficiency.

Up to 6,000 Congolese refugees lived on their own in Luanda and in five provinces throughout the country. Police in urban areas continued to subject refugees to arbitrary arrest, and urban refugee children struggled to find spots in overcrowded local schools.

UNHCR scheduled weekly meetings with Congolese refugees living in Luanda to monitor their protection problems and their need for services.

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