Angolan Refugees Repatriated From DRC
Angola is by no means a democratic, prosperous nation, In 2008 it was ranked 44th out of 48 African nations in 2008 on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. In recent years the political system has become less democratic as President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has tightened his grip on most aspects of Angolan life.
However, when one compares the situation now with the violent conflict which blighted the country for almost three decades pre-2002, it is undeniably a better place. In that year the two main factions, UNITA (National Union for the Total independence of Angola) and the MPLA (The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola – Labour Party) agreed a ceasefire which largely ended the civil war which had raged for the previous thirty years.
So it’s still a pretty desperate place but one which Angolan refugees are increasingly keen to return to. Last week the UNHCR began a programme of repatriations that will result in the return of more than 40,000 Angolans to their home country by the end of the project. The focus is currently on refugees who been resident in the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo, some for several decades. Around 80,000 are resident in the country in total. So far about 20,000 Angolans have signed up to take part in the process.
Angola’s infrastructure is poor and one of the reasons why previous attempts at repatriation have struggled. An earlier project stalled in 2007 because of logistical problems. This project has been jointly organised by Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the UNHCR and the UN involvement will consist of 18 months of checks and monitoring to ensure refugees receive the help and support they have been promised.
The Angolan authorities have promised to provide support via several methods including micro-credit, housing and vocational training and it is these that will be monitored. In what looks to be a piece of political opportunism, the first group to be bussed across the border to the Angolan town of Luvo were greeted by Angolan Minister for Assistance and Social Reintegration Joao Baptista Kussumua who said that:
“We are starting today the repatriation process which will result in the return of 43,000 refugees. We have a responsibility to the children who return today to make sure they will be able to study.”
Returnees are first taken to the Kimpese transit centre on the DRC/Angolan border where they sign voluntary repatriation forms which will act as a temporary Angolan ID. At Kimpese they also undergo medical screening and receive vaccinations.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is not the only country in the region to be sheltering Angolan refugees; Congo, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia all have smaller amounts resident within their borders. The UNHCR has been undertaking fundraising efforts to help in the repatriation of these refugees in recent years and some have already been helped to return from Zambia while others are preparing to return from the Congo.