Pretoria - The South African government has committed itself to helping Angolan refugees return to their home country.
Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said the repatriation of Angolan refugees was part of South Africa and the international community's contribution to helping Angolans build and consolidate peace and democracy after years of war and conflict.
"In assisting in the repatriation of Angolans displaced by the war against colonialism and the subsequent civil war, the international community makes an unequivocal statement that the people of Angola, like the rest of humanity across the world, have an inalienable right to peace, freedom and democracy," she added.
The minister was speaking at a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) meeting on the Comprehensive Strategy for the Angolan Refugee Situation in Pretoria on Wednesday.
South African has played host to an estimated 15 000 Angolan refugees and asylum seekers who arrived in the country before 2008, Dlamini Zuma noted.
Following efforts by the UNHCR to encourage voluntary repatriation after the end of hostilities in 2002, there are now an estimated 5 810 Angolan refugees still in South Africa.
"We are committed as government, working together with all other role players and stakeholders in the international community, to ensure that all Angolan refugees return to their home country so they can meaningfully contribute to the reconstruction and development of Angola," she said.
According to the UNHCR, the war of independence in Angola and the civil war that followed resulted in approximately 600 000 refugees fleeing the country. By the end of 2011, about 130 000 Angolan refugees were still in exile.
The UNHCR announced a Comprehensive Strategy to bring the Angolan refugee situation to a close in 2009.
The four components of the strategy include:
- enhancing voluntary repatriation and re-integration;
- pursuing local integration or alternative legal status in countries of asylum;
- meeting the needs of those unable to return home due to protection-related reasons; and
- elaborating a common schedule leading to the cessation of refugee status.
UNHCR Assistant Commissioner Erika Feller said it was initially hoped that cessation of refugee status would take effect as of 31 December 2011 but the date had to be revised so that some challenges could be addressed.
While more than 50 000 refugees had indicated an interest to return to Angola, actual repatriation numbers remained low.
With regards to refugees who had strong links to their host countries, solutions had not been clear on issues of local integration or long-term residence.
Also, in most asylum countries all the mechanisms and procedures for implementing the cessation process had not been established.
With this in mind, the UNHCR recommended that countries continue to implement all aspects of the Comprehensive Strategy in the first half of 2012, with the refugee status to formally cease as of 30 June 2012.
With just four months to go, Feller said action needed to be taken urgently.
She was hopeful that Wednesday's gathering, at which representatives from a number of countries that host Angolan refugees were present, would make some progress with regards to resolving the Angolan refugee situation.