Saturday, May 28, 2022

UNHCR could miss target for return of Angola refugees

Targeted repatriation of 531 Angolan refugees from Botswana by December is unlikely to happen, following the release this week of United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) statistics.

They indicate that only 28 refugees have returned to Angola since January this year.

Spokesperson for the Angolan Embassy in Botswana, Emmanuel Catumbela, says the remaining refugees will opt for repatriation within the next two to three months. However, delays encountered so far suggest that repatriation may take longer than planned.

Catumbela said repatriation is part of the Angolan government and UNHCR’s effort to end the refugee status of Angolans following improvement in the security situation of their country. It is part of the 2011 strategy, involving voluntary repatriation or local integration of Angolans.

The refugees will be expected to leave Botswana by December, Catumbela said.

Botswana’s government withdrew the residence permits of refugees in urban areas in 2009, and began stricter enforcement of a policy requiring refugees to live in camps.

The policy makes it hard to expand opportunities for self reliance and promote sustainable local integration for refugees as a lasting solution.

Meanwhile, the majority of Angolan refugees billed to return to their home country are reluctant to go. They say their compatriots who opted to be repatriated were not assisted to settle down in Angola.

The refugees are now pressing the Angolan government to assist them with building materials and cash. Many of the refugees reportedly fear that contrary to official accounts, security has not improved in Angola.

Catumbela, however, dismissed as untrue reports that Angola’s government had failed to help the refugees. He said repatriated refugees are well taken care of by being dispersed into areas where there are job opportunities for them.

He said the refugees are given P600 each to help them settle down. He put their reluctance to return to “psychological constraints” which make them believe Angola is still unsafe.

Further, Catumbela warned refugees who refuse repatriation that they would lose their refugee status in Botswana after December. He said beyond that date, the Angolan Embassy would no longer stand for their interests as refugees here.

The UNHCR says in its 2011 regional operations statement that governments in Southern Africa, including Botswana, have been affected by the global economic crisis, which has limited the resources available for refugee protection in camps.

Botswana hosts about 3,200 refugees from various African countries, the majority of them from Angola.

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