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UN:  Aid Agencies Worry About Handling Massive Return of Angolan Refugees

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says about 10,000 Angolan refugees have returned home from Zambia since the cease-fire in Angola's civil war three months ago. Aid agencies fear they do not have the resources needed to help all those returning.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates 15,000 refugees may return by September, when the rainy season starts. And it says as many as 80,000 could go home by the end of the year.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says most of the Angolans returning home are believed to be headed for Moxico Province, which is just across the border from western Zambia.

"We right now are holding regular meetings with refugee leaders in the camps in Zambia to tell them about the situation in Angola," he said. "The general feeling seems to be that, especially among the recently arrived refugees in Zambia, that they are eager to go back quickly. But, those who have been there for a longer time are much more prudent. They are taking a wait-and-see attitude. In the meantime, UNHCR is working to come up with a repatriation plan as quickly as possible."

In all, there are about 470,000 Angolan refugees in the region. Almost one-half of them are in Zambia, and others are in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia. The spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Christiane Berthiaume, says the agency is pleased that the refugees are returning. But, she says WFP will be hard-pressed to feed all the Angolans who are going back.

"The problem, and it is a very big problem, is that we do not have enough food," she said. "WFP has launched an appeal for $241 million to help 1.5 million people in Angola, and this figure would include refugees coming back home. But, the problem is that we do not have enough food. And, by October, if we do not have new contributions, we will be out of cereals and of pulses [beans]."

Ms. Berthiaume says WFP already has had to cut food rations for thousands of people in Angola, so that it can keep feeding the most vulnerable and needy.