Landmark Angola donor conference to help reintegrate former refugees

Angola’s Government will for the first time put a top priority on reintegrating hundreds of thousands of former refugees who have returned home since 2002, at a United Nations backed donor conference on Monday, adding another chapter to ending almost 30 years of conflict in the impoverished African country.The one-day meeting, to be held in the capital Luanda, will focus on the Sustainable Reintegration Initiative, under which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has assisted a wide range of projects in the areas to which refugees have returned, including building women’s centres and rehabilitating schools.“This the first time the Angolan government has declared the reintegration of returnees in their home areas is a formal goal. The government has told donors, who will be at the meeting, that it also wants them to focus on the needs in return areas – most of them poor and isolated regions – in their own assistance plans,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva.She said that the meeting will include eight key ministries of the government, vice-governors of the four provinces of concern and representatives of 20 governments, including all key donor nations. It will also include all UN agencies, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and representatives of major oil companies operating in Angola.“UNHCR has led the way in this process, playing a catalytic role in ensuring that the reintegration needs of returning Angolans are met,” Ms. Pagonis said, adding that UNCHR is providing some $10 million to support the programme this year although it wants to encourage the involvement of the Angolan government and other aid or humanitarian agencies in improving conditions in the areas of return.“Assistance will continue next year but, as UNHCR is not a development agency, the goal is to ensure that the projects become sustainable through the participation of other bodies as the role of the UN refugee agency declines,” she said.Following 27 years of war, the needs in Angola are extreme. When the peace agreement was signed, there were an estimated 457,000 Angolans living as refugees outside the borders, mainly in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then more than 360,000 are estimated to have come home, including 123,000 brought by UNHCR, 89,000 who came on their own but received UNHCR assistance on arrival and a further 149,000 who repatriated without any UN help.

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