UNHCR Angola spokeswoman Lucia Teoli told IRIN that part of the problem was that in some cases refugees had returned to areas that have been cut off from humanitarian agencies due to mine infestation.
Angolan state news agency Angop reported that some 8,623 Angolan citizens who recently returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the district of Quimbele, in Uige Province (northwest Angola), were facing difficulties in obtaining food and medical attention. Quimbele District Administrator Paulo Bunga was reported to have described the situation as "rather critical".
Teoli said: "For sure the situation is not nice in the areas people have spontaneously returned to. We know that in 2002 more than 87,500 refugees returned from neighbouring countries, most have been registered by our implementing partners and local authorities, however, the number could be higher because we do not have access to all the areas to which they are returning. That's why the government of Angola estimates that about 120,000 refugees have spontaneously returned."
Organised repatriation of refugees was to begin in May and June this year.
"It was postponed from last year because adequate conditions were not in place [in areas of return and resettlement], we are going to take people back [to areas] where [adequate] conditions are in place. We are increasing our presence in the field, we opened another seven offices in [the provinces of] Uige, Zaire, Kuando Kubango etc. In the meantime our implementing partners have extended activities to these areas, [focussing on] rehabilitating infrastructure ... and trying to put in place conditions for return," Teoli added.
She said the UNHCR was "pushing the international community to respond to our appeal to make this operation possible". Funding was needed to begin the rehabilitation of infrastructure in areas of return and to then repatriate people from neighbouring countries.
Repatriation would be complicated, given that four countries were involved. But the legal framework for repatriation was now in place and a round of meetings would be held with all the countries involved "to decide all the operational aspects of the repatriation, transport routes, entry points etc. By next month we will have a clear picture of what will happen," Teoli noted.
Meanwhile, the influx of refugees continues into provinces which border Namibia, Zambia and the DRC.
"[For example] in January there were 2,100 returns into Moxico [eastern Angola] and 1,600 in Zaire [northwest Angola]. But the majority are going back to Moxico province. [And] this does not include returnees in inaccessible areas," Teoli said.
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