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Angola-Zambia: UNHCR addresses returnee concerns of landmines and hunger

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JOHANNESBURG, 14 March (IRIN) - The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Zambia on Friday allayed fears that widespread mines could pose a threat to thousands of Angolans returning home later this year.
During a two-day meeting of the Tripartite Commission for Repatriation of Angolan Refugees involving the UNHCR, Zambia and Angola in Lusaka, Zambia's Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Peter Mumba said landmines in oil-rich Angola would need to be removed to ensure the safety of returning refugees.

The objective of the meeting was to negotiate and agree on substantive aspects regarding the implementation of the voluntary repatriation programme.

But UNHCR regional spokesman Fidelis Swai told IRIN there were demining programmes already in place to ensure that returnees would resettle in areas that were safe.

"Due to the war there are areas which are heavily mined but the government and agencies working in these areas have made great progress. Key to the repatriation plan is ongoing mine awareness programmes. Returnees will, of course, be made aware of the realities of returning home," Swai said.

"With the funding UNHCR has received we will also be expanding our presence in those areas of resettlement to ensure that people are reminded of the threat of landmines. So the problem is being addressed," he added.

Another concern raised during the meeting was inadequate food supplies for returnees.

"Returnees will be the beneficiaries of an assistance package facilitated by WFP (World Food Programme) in collaboration with the food agency's implementing partners.

"It has been decided that on arrival returnees will be given enough food for two months. Additionally, they will be given the necessary inputs so that after the two month period they will be in a position to harvest some basic produce. For those who aren't able to harvest, the situation will be reviewed and the necessary provisions will be made available," Swai added.

UNHCR expects to organise the first repatriations at the end of the rainy season in May or June. Around 110,000 Angolans are expected to return to their country with the assistance of the refugee agency.

However the UN refugee agency stressed that there were challenges to overcome before the repatriation kick-offs.

"We must consider that the roads between Zambia and Angola are few, and those that are in place are in a bad condition. We also need to look into the fact that many Angolan children have been attending school in Zambia. We also need to clarify if Zambian-born spouses will be able to enter Angola without any problem. The road ahead is a long one," Swai noted.

The government of Angola has said it would put in place a national reconstruction programme that would first begin with the repatriation exercise of all Angolan refugees living in neighbouring countries, mainly the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia and Zambia.

More than a million Angolans have reportedly returned to Angola spontaneously since a peace agreement between the government and the UNITA rebels in April last year.

Presently, Zambia hosts refugees from Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region.

Last November UNHCR and the governments of Angola and Zambia decided on a legal framework for voluntary repatriation which included provisions for a tax waiver, amnesty, go-and-see visits to home villages, transport, accommodation, family reunification and reintegration.

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