UNHCR Briefing Notes: DR Congo, Australia/"Tampa", Pakistan/Afghans, Greece/boat arrival, fYR of Macedonia

from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 11 Sep 2001
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
1. Democratic Republic of Congo

UNHCR has completed the transfer of more than 3,000 Angolan refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo's south-western border town of Kidompolo to more secure areas inland. In the transfer operation, which ended on Friday, the refugees were taken to Congolese villages south of the capital, Kinshasa. The refugees are part of a group of nearly 10,000 Angolan refugees who had fled to the DRC in early August in the wake of a UNITA offensive on the northern Angolan town of Beu. The last group of refugees left Kidompolo on Friday morning on foot at the start of a two-day journey to the settlement villages of Zomfi, Zulu and Sadi, some 50 kms from the DRC/Angola frontier.

Because of extremely poor road conditions, the majority of the more than 3,000 refugees who have arrived in the new locations had to walk from their border encampments to the villages. Vulnerable refugees, including young children, the sick, the elderly and the disabled were transported by truck - a three-hour journey.

Over the weekend, many of the refugees in the villages had begun constructing huts and other shelter in areas that have been set aside for them. Each refugee family was allocated half a hectare of land. UNHCR and partners will provide seeds, tools and other aid to the refugees over the next several months. Future support will, however, be community-based and will focus mainly on health and education facilities in localities where refugees have settled.

An estimated 4,000 Angolan refugees who arrived in the DRC during August still remain in other border areas - 2,000 in the town of Kimvula and a similar number scattered across several other villages. More than 2,000 others have returned on their own to their homes in areas around the town of Maquela do Zombo, in northern Angola.

Over the weekend, a UNHCR team travelled to the DRC town of Kimvula, a remote area some 120 kms east of Kidompolo where the majority of the new arrivals have been gathered. An aid convoy was also sent yesterday from Kinshasa to the area. The UNHCR team has began making preparations for the transfer of refugees from Kimvula to three villages further away from the border. A total of six villages, including Zulu, Zomfi and Sadi which have already received 3,000 refugees, have been prepared for the new Angolan refugees. Before the recent influx, the DRC was hosting over 180,000 Angolan refugees. UNHCR is assisting over 70,000 of them in the Bas-Congo and Katanga Provinces.

2. Australia/"Tampa" court ruling

A statement issued by UNHCR Canberra today notes the decision by the Federal Court of Australia with regard to the asylum seekers transferred from the Norwegian ship Tampa to the Australian naval vessel HMAS Manoora and that the Federal Court has ordered the return of these asylum seekers to Australia.

UNHCR hopes that this decision will now herald the end of the two-week ordeal of the asylum seekers rescued at sea by the Tampa on 26 August 2001 and that these persons will now be granted speedy access to fair and effective procedures for determining their status and protection needs in Australia, without further delay.

3. Pakistan/Afghans

The joint UNHCR/Pakistan screening teams at the makeshift Jalozai site and Nasir Bagh refugee camp in north-west Pakistan in the last week have processed more than 1,000 cases of Afghans seeking protection in Pakistan.

The fifty-five screeners have completed 739 cases, of which 519 cases have been accepted and 148 cases rejected, while 59 cases opted for voluntary repatriation. Last week, UNHCR relocated the first Afghans accepted from the squalid Jalozai site to the better-equipped New Shamshatoo refugee camp. So far some 1,733 Afghans have been moved. UNHCR has provided the refugees with tents, groundsheets, jerrycans, buckets, kitchen sets, washing powder and soap. They will also receive food assistance from the World Food Programme.

Yesterday, the joint team registered another 1,530 Afghan families in Nasir Bagh, of whom 1,419 families decided to return home, while 111 families chose to seek protection in Pakistan.

Since 6 August, the screeners have processed 22,559 families. Some 14,675 families have been registered and will be interviewed to determine their refugee status, while 7,884 families have opted to repatriate to Afghanistan.

UNHCR and the Commissioner for Afghan Refugees (CAR) have agreed to establish 14 review teams in Jalozai and 10 in Nasir Bagh. The review teams will deal with appeal and unresolved cases.

4. Greece/ boat arrival

UNHCR is pleased to see the excellent reception given by Greece to a boat carrying more than 270 people who arrived on the island of Evia last Wednesday.

The Greek authorities responded quickly and decisively after the first people swam ashore. All those found so far have been given good accommodation, food, and medical care where necessary. About 10 of the passengers received hospital treatment. The local population brought food, toys, clothes and other gifts in a show of support. In general, the Greek government, media and people have reacted with great sympathy and admirable hospitality towards the boat people. The government stated clearly that Greece would stand by its international obligations towards any asylum-seekers among the passengers. An asylum screening process is currently underway on Evia, and a UNHCR team has been on the spot since last Wednesday to assist and monitor the screening process.

So far, a total of 272 people from the boat have been located, including 14 women and 13 children. 220 are reported to be Iraqis. There were also 18 Afghans, 22 Pakistanis, 7 Iranians, 4 Turks and 1 Palestinian on board. According to some of those interviewed, between three and five people died during the journey and their bodies were thrown overboard. The Greek authorities conducted an extensive sea and air search to try and locate the bodies, but so far none have been found.

5. FYR of Macedonia

More than 9,000 refugees have returned to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from Kosovo since Thursday, mostly to Skopje, Tetovo and Kumanovo. The dramatic increase in returns coincided with the removal of an ethnic Macedonian roadblock near the Blace border crossing and the FYROM Parliament's first vote in favour of giving more rights to ethnic Albanians.

Returning Albanian families told UNHCR staff at the border that they decided to return mainly to get their children back in school, which opened this week. Some knew their houses had been damaged but said they will stay with host families in FYROM while they can repair their homes before winter. Others were worried about losing their jobs after up to six months away. The presence of NATO in FYROM is seen as another reason for the increased returns from Kosovo.

Although situation remains relatively calm in FYROM, many of the returnee families expressed concern about a security vacuum, particularly in rural areas around Tetovo and Kumanovo where fighting took place earlier. Some were worried that conflict might erupt again if NATO pulls out of FYROM at the end of the month. UNHCR appealed last week for an international security presence in FYROM to fill the security vacuum and help create conditions for the safe return of refugees and displaced persons.

UNHCR field teams continue to visit return areas and provide basic aid packages to returnee families as needed. In the village of Orlanci, 15 kilometres north-east of Skopje, a UNHCR team yesterday found about 800 villagers, or 90% of residents, had returned. A week earlier, only 300 villagers had gone back.

While UNHCR supports the right of all displaced people to go home, we are concerned that many of the returnee families return only to find that they cannot move into their original residences because of security concerns. Leaders of some 6,000 ethnic Albanian internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kumanovo, for example, say they cannot return to their villages up in the hills because of police checkpoints on the road.

UNHCR is also gearing up to provide shelter repair and rehabilitation assistance to thousands of returnee families. Since July, more than 47,000 returns from Kosovo have been recorded. An estimated 33,000 refugees still remain in Kosovo, and another 76,000 IDPs have been registered by the Macedonian Red Cross.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.