UNHCR regional spokesman Fidelis Swai told IRIN that of the seven identified crossing points from Zambia, five needed to be rehabilitated or upgraded before the first repatriations begin at the end of the rainy season in May or June.
During Angola's 27-year civil war thousands of refugees fled into Zambia's Western and North Western provinces. The country hosts the largest number of Angolan refugees in Southern Africa followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (163,000) and Namibia (24,500).
UNHCR said that a number of benchmarks were reached during last week's meeting in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, which included the documentation needed for registering returnees and logistical issues like transport.
"Many Angolans who fled the war do not have the proper, if any, birth or death certificates. The Zambian authorities have guaranteed that they will facilitate this. The correct documentation is essential for everyone concerned. Not only will it give the Angolan government statistics for proper planning when these people do return but it will also assist the UNHCR in our appeal to donors in the future," Swai noted.
"It is also important that we screen and register returnees to make sure that they are in fact Angolan, and not refugees who settled in Zambia from other countries," he said.
Last week the Zambian authorities raised concerns over landmines and food insecurity in Angola. But UNHCR told IRIN that the government of Angola, together with various humanitarian agencies, had already embarked on programmes to ensure the safe passage of returnees.
Meanwhile, a similar tripartite meeting took place last week in Namibia's capital, Windhoek, where delegates from the governments of Angola and Namibia as well as UNHCR visited Osire refugee camp, where Angolans make up the majority of the camp's inhabitants.
UNHCR spokesman in Namibia, David Nthengwe, told IRIN: "One of the main concerns is that the conditions on the ground are suitable for these refugees to return to. While people have raised concerns of landmines and food shortages, many are keen to return to Angola."
He added that a recent survey revealed that 96 percent of Angolans living in Namibia had expressed an interest in returning home, and of those, 80 percent said they would like to do so this year.
"Most of the returnees would like to resettle in Kuando Kubango, the province from where most of them fled during the war. The focus now is getting the necessary documentation in order and making sure that children receive the necessary vaccinations before they return. Students who are still studying in Namibia will be allowed to continue their education," Nthengwe said.
He added that Angolan authorities had already rehabilitated basic physical and social infrastructure in some areas of return, and established administrative structures throughout the country to deal with returnees.
"The challenges facing Angola are enormous but the government is committed to providing assistance to returnees. All actors involved are working hard to ensure a dignified return for Angolan refugees," Nthengwe added.
A similar tripartite meeting will be held in Kinshasa from 28-29 March between UNHCR and the governments of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The three separate commissions were set up late last year to establish the legal and practical framework for the upcoming repatriation movement.
Last year UNHCR launched an appeal for US $34.5 million to pay for repatriation and reintegration of Angolan refugees from across Southern Africa and abroad until the end of 2004. So far the refugee agency has received a third of its appeal amount.
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