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Zambia: UN to aid Angolan, Congolese refugees

Zambia: UN agency to aid Angolan, Congolese refugees who do not repatriate

With tens of thousands of Angolans and Congolese repatriating from Zambia as peace takes hold in their homelands, the United Nations refugee agency is seeking funds to integrate those who do not seek to return home from the Central African country, which hosts the oldest refugee camp on the continent.

“It is a holistic approach, helping both the host communities and the refugees,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official Tamba Momoh Amara said. “The ultimate goal is to make both the refugees and the host communities self-sufficient, so those refugees who don't return can remain in the area and be self-sufficient.”

So in addition to repatriation, UNHCR and the government of Zambia have started a programme, known as the Zambia Initiative, to spur economic development and integrate refugees who are unlikely to ever go home, in some cases the children or grandchildren of those who fled up to four decades ago.

Overall, Zambia hosts some 154,000 refugees, just under half of them living in the five UNHCR camps and the rest scattered among the local population.

There are now only 26,000 Angolans left in three camps following a programme of voluntary repatriation that began after a 2002 peace agreement ended 27 years of war in their country. By the end of last year, UNHCR had helped more than 63,000 Angolans to return from Zambia and the total will rise again in 2006, the operation’s final year.

About 60,000 Congolese, mainly in two camps in northern Zambia, are awaiting the outcome of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), expected in June. That could clear the way for UNHCR to begin voluntary repatriation as early as this year.

Zambia has always been a generous host to refugees. Mayukwayukwa Camp, in the west of Zambia toward the border of Angola, has been hosting Angolan refugees since 1966, making it the oldest refugee camp in Africa.

Activities under the Zambia Initiative have been modest so far, designed more as a catalyst to attract other organizations into the process. UNHCR, which does not do the development work delegated to other UN bodies, wants to ensure that refugee areas are incorporated into the national development plans, so that they help the process of finding a solution for remaining refugees.

The search is on for extra support to revitalize the Initiative, which began in 2004 but now faces a serious shortage of funds. The focus remains at present on areas with Angolan refugees, where most who will return have already left. But UNHCR would also like to see the concept applied to the areas with Congolese refugees.

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