JOHANNESBURG, 3 August (IRIN) - The repatriation of Angolan refugees living in neighbouring countries is expected to pick up speed in the next few weeks, says the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
In the past few days refugees have returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Congo-Brazzaville, including 52 who returned to the troubled northern Cabinda enclave.
UNHCR Angola spokeswoman Maria Benevides told IRIN the repatriation of refugees to Cabinda was significant because it was the first in two years. The enclave remains strife-torn as the government fights an armed separatist movement.
There are still some 3,000 Cabindan refugees in Congo-Brazzaville, who have cited the security situation in the enclave as a major concern. "This repatriation was a test. There was a go-and-see visit by refugees last year, but they felt that it was not safe to return. This group felt they really wanted to come back and it [the repatriation] went brilliantly," she said.
Local community organisations had welcomed the returnees.
"They were all promised plots of land and local organisations created a new neighbourhood called Santa Catarina; they set up a self-help programme to build houses, etc. The returnees' final destinations were all close to the capital of the province, and the general feeling was that in town and around town was safe; there was a presence of troops and it was safe," Benevides added.
Some 250 refugees from the DRC are set to return to Angola this week. UNHCR DRC said in a statement that they were part of a group of 2,000 Angolans in the southern Kasangulu area of the DRC who had registered for the voluntary repatriation programme.
"They have been waiting for more than 20 years for the chance to return to their home areas - mainly in Bengo province near the Angolan capital, Luanda. Some of them had sought asylum in the DRC following Angola's war of independence in 1972; others fled Angola in 1975, when fighting flared up again after the country's independence," UNHCR explained.
Benevides said UNHCR expected repatriation to "pick up" ahead of the rainy season, which starts in October.
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