Angola + 3 more

UNHCR briefing notes: Zambia / Angola, Liberia

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News and Press Release
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Posted
Originally published
Kris Janowski - Media Relations
(Extract)

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR website, www.unhcr.ch, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

ADVISORY: High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers will be available to brief reporters in Salle III at 1800 hours on Monday at the conclusion of a meeting on repatriation to Iraq.

ZAMBIA / ANGOLA

UNHCR is set to launch this morning a voluntary repatriation for Angolan refugees from Zambia -- the third country in the region to set up an organized return program for more than 400,000 Angolan refugees outside Angola. Two other operations from the D.R. Congo and Namibia are already underway.

A first convoy carrying some 500 Angolan refugees is scheduled to leave Meheba camp in western Zambia this morning for Cazombo, eastern Angola. More than 25,000 Angolan refugees have registered to return from Meheba alone under the return programme to be carried out over the next two years. Zambia is home to some 200,000 Angolan refugees -- nearly half the total number of Angolan refugees in the region. The refugees in Zambia are being cared for in four refugeee camps in the west and in urban areas.

Convoys from Zambia will assist refugees to return mainly to Cazombo in Angola's eastern province of Moxico. Cazombo, along with four other communities (Mbanza Congo in the province of Zaïre; Luau in Moxico; and Menogue and Calundo in Cuando Cubango) meet certain pre-conditions for organized return. All can be reached by road, the danger of landmines is relatively low, and basic services including schools, health clinics and potable water are available. Many areas of Angola do not yet have the conditions in place for repatriation. However, UNHCR is working with the Government of Angola and other partners to open up more areas for return in the coming months.

Returnees will spend the first few days back in Angola in a reception centre where they will receive mine awareness training, HIV/AIDs information and medical assistance, where needed. They will also receive a re-integration kit which consists of food rations, a construction kit to assist in building their homes, and basic household supplies.

With the start of repatriation from Zambia we now have in place four return routes to Angola. There are two return routes from the D.R. Congo - - from the Bas Congo southwards into Mbanza Congo in northern Angola and from Katanga Province to Luau in north-eastern Angola. We opened up a third route from Namibia into the southern Angola province of Cuando Cubango.

Nearly 2,000 Angolan refugees have been assisted home from D.R. Congo and Namibia since the start of organized return to Angola nearly three weeks ago. The government of Angola estimates that some 130,000 Angolans have returned home on their own since last year.

LIBERIA

More than 600 Sierra Leonean refugees have so far been evacuated by ship from Monrovia, Liberia, to Freetown, Sierra Leone in a continuing UNHCR operation aimed at helping thousands return to their homeland.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and it partners in Monrovia are still struggling to assist tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people in and around the war-torn capital. Following weeks of looting, our operations are hampered by a shortage of vehicles - - they were stolen - and a lack of fuel. Nevertheless, our national staff and NGO partners are doing their best to help people scattered throughout the Monrovia area, focusing particularly on life-saving activities. Medical clinics have been set up in various locations and an ambulance service is being provided for critical cases. UNHCR staff are also focusing on continuing registration of those wanting to be evacuated in our seaborne operation. The MV Overbeck is able to make the return trip about every four days, carrying between 300 and 350 Sierra Leonean refugees each voyage.

According to evacuees interviewed by UNHCR staff in Freetown yesterday, most of the 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia want to leave the country. After their camps were caught up in the recent fighting, many have been trying to reach the UNHCR office to be registered for evacuation as soon as possible. Several said they were tired of being repeatedly displaced in the Liberian fighting.

Although it remains largely deserted, they said a few refugees were going to the sprawling VOA camp on the outskirts of Monrovia to retrieve their belongings. Some of the returnees said they had witnessed various abuses, including rape, by soldiers. They also said that some Sierra Leoneans were unable to leave because they had become separated from their children and were trying to find them.