23,000 Angolans back home as refugee status ends

The United Nations refugee agency said a total of 23,000 Angolans have been repatriated since last year from neighbouring countries where their refugee status officially ended on Saturday.

"Since February 2011, 23,000 Angolans have returned to their country," the UNHCR's coordinator of repatriation in Angola, Margarida Fawke, told AFP.

This included 16,000 from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 3,000 from both Zambia and Namibia in operations by the Angolan government with the support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration.

Many had left during Angola's decades of war between 1961 and 2002 seeking refuge in surrounding nations where they lived as refugees. The decision to lift refugee status as of June 30 came after 10 years of peace in their homeland.

"However, some 24,000 Angolans living in the DRC and about 2,000 in Namibia and Zambia still wish to return," said Fawke, adding that the terms had not yet been worked out.

Another 51,000 in the DR Congo and 20,000 in Zambia want to remain in those countries and were encouraged to regularise their situation.

Still, ome 100,000 Angolans live in exile mostly in the DR Congo and Zambia.

Almost 400,000 were repatriated between 2002 and 2007.