Angola + 1 more

Humanitarian aid to facilitate the repatriation to Angola of Angolan refugees in Zambia

Situation Report
Originally published
Amount of decision: € 2.000.000

Decision reference number: ECHO/ZMB/EDF/2004/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

The April 2002 ceasefire in Angola, after 27 years of civil war, laid the building blocks for a lasting peace in Angola. It also lifted the curtain which had hidden the true extent of the humanitarian crisis in the country, and triggered movements on an unprecedented scale of the most vulnerable population groups, IDPs and spontaneously returning refugees. According to Government and OCHA figures, up to 3.800.000 people have moved in Angola since the ceasefire, including 45.000 (UNHCR) refugees who have been repatriated in an organised manner and up to 150.000 who have spontaneously returned from neighbouring countries. Humanitarian partners in Angola estimate that 70% of the returns had taken place without any form of assistance from local authorities or humanitarian organisations to areas where the minimum conditions for resettlement were not in place. Tackling this situation has been the major challenge for humanitarian partners since mid-2003, when the nutritional crisis in the country was generally judged to be over, and the post-conflict transition phase to have begun.

According to the UN(1), two years after the signing of the April 2002 Memorandum of Understanding formally marking the cessation of hostilities, nearly all IDPs had returned to their areas of origin, and the majority of those who had not returned have decided to remain within their host communities. An estimated 100.000 people remain internally displaced compared to 3.8 million at the end of the war. In addition, approximately half of the estimated 442.000(2) refugees estimated to have fled to neighbouring countries still remain in their host countries, mainly the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Namibia.

Many thousands of refugees began to repatriate spontaneously as soon as the ceasefire was declared, primarily to Cuando Cubango, Moxico, Uige and Zaire Provinces, and these spontaneous returns have continued steadily ever since. Those who managed to reach areas already accessed by humanitarian partners received the same assistance as other vulnerable groups in those areas. Many more, though, were unable to reach their areas of origin further inland, and remained blocked in precarious conditions in border areas whilst trying to organise their onward journey. At the same time, the first organised repatriations of refugees began in June 2003, following the signature in November and December 2002 of tripartite agreements between the UNHCR, the Government of Angola, and the Governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), and Zambia respectively. As most of the interior of the country (Angola is the fourth biggest in Africa) was then still inaccessible due to the presence of mines and other UXO and badly damaged or destroyed road and bridge infrastructure, and due to the complete absence of any minimum conditions in 70% of designated resettlement areas, it was decided to repatriate first of all only those refugees who wished to return to accessible sites near the borders(3). By November 2003, when the official convoys were suspended due to the onset of the rainy season, compounded by the overcrowding of these areas, 45.000 had been brought back to Angola by UNHCR and its partners.

Spontaneous repatriation, however, still goes on, with refugees travelling ever greater distances in hazardous conditions in order to get home, encouraged by reports from family members already in Angola that the situation is stable and conditions improving. From December 2003 to February 2004, for example, ECHO partners working in Lumbala N'Guimbo, in the interior of Moxico province, had registered almost 1.000 spontaneous returnees - families with children - from Nangweshi camp, Zambia. Most had travelled first by river, then across northern Namibia and heavily-mined southern Angola by foot - a distance of almost 800 km - during the worst rainy season the region has known for 25 years. This is in itself significant, as the population of Nangweshi were considered to be UNITA "elite", and it was always thought that they would be the last to return to Angola. The fact that many are returning - and the vast majority wish to return as soon as possible(4) - bears witness to the overall confidence in the lasting nature of the peace.

UNHCR and its partners launched the second phase of the official repatriation exercise in June 2004, and estimates that 145.000 refugees, of whom about 90.000 in an organised manner, will repatriate from DRC, Zambia and Namibia this year, including to areas further inland, such as the Central Highlands. A significant number of refugees, mainly currently in Zambia and Namibia, wish to return to the Planalto provinces of Huambo, Huila, Bie, Kwanza Sul and Benguela. However, apart from the fact that the distances are great (Osire/Namibia - Huambo almost 1.000 km), it is currently very difficult to access these areas overland, which would anyway be extremely onerous in terms of setting up transit centres, food, fuel, time etc., and would cause extreme discomfort to, and risk increasing the vulnerability of the returnees. This situation could be avoided by using a combination of air and land transport(5).

However, as evidenced by the continuing spontaneous repatriation, and as declared by the refugees themselves, most want to go home quickly and many will not wait for the convoys - except those in Osire, Namibia, who would be faced with walking several hundred kilometres in the extreme conditions of the desert. It is clear that returning spontaneously carries the risk of increased vulnerability, particularly for the elderly, women and children, and depletes the already minimal economic assets, which would need to be used for the journey home.

The repatriation of refugees is a prime and fundamental consideration from a humanitarian standpoint, as well as being driven by political imperatives. The fact that almost two and a half years have passed since the end of the war in Angola, and that the peace is holding, is the most compelling political imperative. The repatriation of those refugees who wish to return to Angola must be completed in the shortest possible time, not only for their own well-being, but also to relieve the burden on the host countries who have provided them with hospitality for many years.


(1) United Nations Consolidated Appeal for the Transition, Mid-Year Review, June 2004

(2) UNHCR figures, of whom in camps in : DRC - 163.000 ; Zambia - 200.000 ; Namibia - 24.500 ; Republic of Congo - 16.000. Remaining 38.500 spontaneously settled.

(3) Mainly Luau and Cazombo in Moxico, M'Banza Congo in Zaire, Maquela do Zombo in Uige and Caiundo in Cuando Cubango

(4) Confirmed many times over to ECHO staff in personal interviews with refugees and their leaders at Nangweshi camp, Zambia, February 2004

(5) IOM Road Assessment mission, March 2004