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Angolan Refugees Return Home - 2003-10-28

The U.N. Refugee Agency says nearly 200,000 Angolan refugees have returned home since peace was declared in May 2002.

Since June, the U.N. says it has repatriated more than 40,000 Angolans in organized convoys. It says about 150,000 other refugees have returned home on their own.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says the spontaneous returns began almost immediately after the UNITA rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi was killed early last year and prospects for peace began emerging.

"People started realizing then that, basically, the civil war was finishing and started going back," said Mr. Janowski. "We usually are much more cautious and wait for things to settle down much better. And, things are still difficult in terms of mines, for example. The place is totally littered with landmines."

The United Nations says most of the Angolan refugees have returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rest have gone back from Zambia and Namibia. It says an estimated 300,000 Angolan refugees are in neighboring countries.

Mr. Janowski says the pace of returns is slowing with the arrival of the rainy season in some parts of the country.

He says the UNHCR is planning to help 145,000 refugees return to their homeland next year.

"It will resume full speed probably on the onset of the dry season, which is going to be toward April," he said. "So there is going to be a pause of several months. Not an entire halt, but a slowdown of several months. And then it will resume. Hopefully, by the end of next year, if the spontaneous returns continue, by the end of next year, we will see pretty much the end of the Angolan refugee exodus."

Apart from transportation home, the United Nations gives the returning refugees food and some basic non-food items, such as household and agricultural tools. It also trains them how to avoid landmines and HIV infection.