New Era (Windhoek)

4 July 2012

Namibia: Voluntary Repatriation Peters Out

Windhoek — The voluntary repatriation of Angolan refugees that started on May 16 came to an end on Saturday, June 30, with over 2 800 refugees out of the registered 3 200 returning to their motherland.

Every week, since the commencement of the voluntary repatriation process, convoys of buses ferried Angolan refugees from the Osire refugee settlement in the Otjozondjupa Region to either the Cunene or Cuando Cubango province in Angola.

Angolans all over the globe lost their refugee status on Saturday, June 30. This means that they will no longer enjoy international legal protection and assistance that they enjoyed as refugees.

The Commissioner for Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration, Nkrumah Mushelenga, said the entire repatriation process "went very well with no incidences recorded".

He added that it was expected that not all refugees who registered to be repatriated voluntarily would meet the stipulated deadline, citing the shortage of transportation for one.

He said there were still Angolans at Osire. "Of course, they are not there as refugees, because that chapter has closed," Mushelenga said.

He emphasised that by law and international conventions, Angolans in the country and in other parts of the world are no longer refugees.

According to Mushelenga, the process was voluntary, meaning that the refugees had to make a choice on whether to return to their native country or not. No country hosting Angolans can force them to return home.

"They should rather be given a sympathetic ear on the reasons why they don't want to go back," he added.

He said proper assessments would be carried out to collect authentic data on how many Angolans (who were refugees) remained and the reasons why they chose to remain in Namibia.

A full report would eventually be submitted to Cabinet before the end of July to decide on how to deal with the situation of these Angolans, explained Mushelenga.

"We are not dealing with criminals," said Mushelenga, who added that Angolans are law-abiding citizens. Nevertheless, he was hopeful that the world would continue to work towards a world without refugees.

A large number of Angolans fled to Namibia during the war for independence between 1961 and 1975. The civil war, which ensued thereafter in the oil-rich country, ended a decade ago and Angola is now in the process of reconstruction.

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