A UN refugee agency convoy took 252 Angolans back to their homeland from the Democratic Republic of Congo, resuming a voluntary repatriation programme for tens of thousands who fled Angola’s civil war.
The 27-year civil war ended in 2002 and left an estimated 500,000 refugees in countries including Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Voluntary returns have been organised by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, host countries and the Angolan government, but the UNHCR estimates that about 113,000 Angolans are still in exile, Reuters reports.
About 57,000 Angolans returned home from the DRC between 2003 and 2007 but the programme was stopped due to logistical problems, with some 80,000 refugees left behind in the country, many of them living in camps and dependent on aid.
The voluntary initiative has been revived after a UNHCR survey found that 43,000 people were interested in going home, UNHCR said in a statement.
A new agreement between the UNHCR and the two governments was signed in June and 20,000 refugees have so far signed up for help with returning, it added.
“Refugees are telling staff they want to go home because of improved prospects for peace in Angola, because their families are waiting, because they feel they would be better off at home and they miss their country,” the Geneva-based agency said.
Friday’s convoy of seven buses departed from the Congolese city of Kimpese and travelled 80 km (50 miles) to cross the Angolan border.
“Today, my dream to go back home comes true,” UNHCR cited one of the Angolans as saying.
UNHCR said it was planning two convoys per week.
The Angolan government has said it welcomes all refugees who want to return and will offer them conditions needed for their reintegration, including housing, schools and land for farming.
Social Reintegration Minister Joao Kussuma said last month the government has had to pay repatriation logistics costs as “UNHCR’s financial contribution, in the current international situation, has not met expectations given the weak response from the donor community.”
The refugee agency said it has received just $8 million of its $21 million appeal to help Angolan refugees return home.