Refugees International launches assessment mission to Angola

Refugees International is presently conducting a three-week assessment mission in Angola. The peace there is holding, but the country is facing tremendous obstacles in meeting the humanitarian needs of some four million internally displaced persons (IDPs), managing a disarmament and reintegration process, and planning for the return of refugees from neighboring countries. The present RI mission, led by Advocate Veronika Martin, is intended as a follow-up to the mission RI conducted in June 2002 in the immediate aftermath of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi's death, which led to the end of the conflict. Veronika will concentrate on humanitarian conditions for IDPs and returning refugees, with a special focus on access to food assistance and health care. RI is concerned that the government of Angola may be forcing people to return against their will to their home communities. Veronika will be examining the extent to which returns have been voluntary. Of special concern is the status of women who were forced to join the UNITA forces as the wives of soldiers now being demobilized. In the context of the overall demobilization program, what considerations are in place for the reintegration of women into their original or their husbands' communities?
Photographer Paula Allen, who visited Afghanistan with RI in May 2002, and whose photos were featured in RI's 2003 calendar, will join Veronika on the mission. Veronika is also helping to organize a joint assessment mission by Arthur Helton, refugee policy expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, and David Shorr of the Stanley Foundation. She returns to the U.S. in early February.