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Fewer Angolan Refugees Returning Home, says UNHCR - 2002-08-13

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says there has been a slowdown in the number of Angolans returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and from Zambia. The refugee agency says reports of the lack of food, schooling and medical facilities in Angola are discouraging people from going home.

The U.N. refugee agency notes there was a rush of returns in the wake of new prospects of peace in Angola. It says an average of 1,500 Angolans have returned home each month between February and July from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Kris Janowski said figures now show that the numbers of refugees returning home this month are falling. He said Angolan refugees are holding back amid rumors that conditions in Angola are very bad. "These people reported back to their families and friends that Angola was basically devastated," he said. "There were no schools, no food, there were no medical facilities. This caused a dampening of enthusiasm among Angolans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to rush back to Angola."

Mr. Janowski said Angolan refugees in the camps tell aid workers they prefer to wait until next year, when the refugee agency may start an organized repatriation. This would include assistance for people returning home.

He said the U.N. only has a limited presence in Angola. He said the agency provides some aid for internally displaced people. "In this case, we are not providing any aid and we are certainly not encouraging returns at this stage," he explained. "We have basically been doing a little bit of counting, and counting people who have been going back. But, our counting is flawed because we have only been counting people who have been officially leaving settlements and basically telling everybody that they are leaving."

U.N. spokesman Janowski said other people just left, without officially reporting their departure to camp authorities.

There are nearly 200,000 Angolan refugees in the DRC. Some have been there since 1983. Another 220,000 Angolans are in Zambia.