The refugees, overwhelmingly women, children and youths, are scattered across a 160 km-wide front from Imusho in the south, at the corner of the Namibian-Angolan border, to Shangombo further north. Estimates of numbers vary from 10,000 to 17,000 people, with the bulk concentrated in encampments dotted around the hamlet of Sinjembela.
The refugees are mainly from around the UNITA rebel base of Jamba, captured by the Angolan army late last year. They are described as "semi-urban", well educated, and in better shape than the rural Angolans that have fled the on-going fighting into Zambia.
But they are also perceived as sympathetic to UNITA, which raises security concerns. "Everybody is worried about reprisal attacks," UNHCR spokesman Dominik Bartsch told IRIN. "All the refugees in Sinjembela want to move as quickly as possible, Sinjembela sits right on the border."
UNHCR is struggling to overcome terrain and logistical problems that are hampering the movement of the refugees to Nangweshi, 120 km further inland. The first 40-50 km of the journey is through waterlogged wetlands, and the remainder sandy soil with overhanging branches which slows the trucks to little more than walking pace.
UNHCR's seven trucks and four tractors can only ferry some 800 people a-week. One return trip takes almost three days. "Even if we had 20 trucks we couldn't move more than 1,500 a-week," Bartsch said. UNHCR is considering the option of setting up mobile way station to allow some of the refugees to make the journey on foot.
Meanwhile, under a joint UNICEF and Zambian government programme, medical supplies to cover 10,000 people for three months arrived in Sinjembela last week. Two medical personnel provided by the government are in place, with a further two expected shortly. "The health situation is under control for the time being, but due to the rainy season dysentery cases could increase," UNICEF's Kiyoshi Nakamitsu told IRIN
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