12 Apr 2011 - Story by Magreth Nunuhe
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WINDHOEK - Many Angolan refugees do not want to return home after their refugee status in Namibia ceases at the end of this year.
They have requested the Namibian government to resettle them or integrate them into society.
The Angolan refugees made their position clear despite a call by Steven Corliss, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Deputy Director for Africa Bureau that they should consider going back home and think about best solution for their families.
He said the UNHCR was also talking to the government of Angola to plan for the return of its citizens.
Corliss said it was up to the Namibian government to decide if they could remain, "but it is true that Namibia has a lot of national challenges its facing like flooding."
He said they are committed to working with Namibia even when their refugees'status ceases at the end of 2011.
"We want to make sure people have real solutions, we have asked the Namibian government if it was possible for some refugees to remain."
Over 6000 Angolans, 1000 Rwandan and 100 Burundian refugees who live in Namibia would lose their refugee status at the end of this year when UNHCR applies the Cessation Clause on those countries on December 31 2011. The Application of the Cessation Clause of the UNHCR Statute is effected when circumstances that had made refugees flee their countries of origin cease to exist and the countries are declared peaceful and stable. Refugees are then returned in safely and with dignity to their places of origin and successfully re-integrated into their society.
Corliss, together with the Namibian Commissioner for Refugees Nkrumah Mushelenga and Dr Lawrence Mgbangson UNHCR country representative, visited Osire refugee settlement on Friday but could only address a crowd of a few hundred refugees from the close to 8000 living at the camp that had gathered to listen to them.
"The children of refugees should not have children that are refugees and their grand children as refugees," said Corliss to a huge applause, adding that not everything may be perfect when they return, but that peace was restored in Angola in 2002 and the country has already held two democratic elections.
"There is no open door for integration now, if it opens, it won't open for everybody," Corliss warned, saying that the Namibian government was expecting Angolan refugees to go home and rebuild their country.
"I understand it's a very difficult decision to make after living peacefully for so many years here," he added.
But some refugees, speaking to New Era expressed dissatisfaction with returning home, saying there is no peace in their country, contrary to what Corliss was saying.
"Angolan people are feeling bad, those that returned are suffering in Angola," said one woman. She claimed that their government made empty promises that they would get passports but never fulfilled that promise.
Another woman interjected saying that apparently the UNHCR only gives a repatriation grant of US$100 to every Angolan that returns home.
"How can they send us back with US$100, how can we go back with nothing? It's not fair," she fumed.
She said that most Angolans wanted to live in Namibia and asked why the government could not just give Osire to them so that they can be resettled there. "We can live here, because there is peace here. What about our children? Our country is not the way they are thinking."
Mgbangson, UNHCR country representative, reassured the refugees that they would find a solution to their problems together. "Don't be frightened," he tried to calm the perturbed crowd, adding that ten months is not very far and that they have to sit with their families and discuss this "serious matter."
He said that he would return with the Commissioner to discuss the issue.
Mushelenga emphasised that the message they were getting is not only for Angola, Burundi, Rwandan refugees in Namibia, but that it is for all refugees across the globe who hail from these countries.
He added that the go-and-see visit was part of the process for voluntary repatriation of Burundi and Rwandese refugees.
The Commissioner assured the refugees that arrangements would be made so that they could take all assets they acquired with them.
"I will encourage you to start getting national documents," he said, especially for Angolan nationals that may decide to remain in the event that they are referred to Namibian immigration.
"But it's still in your best interest to voluntary repatriate, even if you go to Angola, you can have the opportunity to travel to Namibia for business," he said.
Mushelenga added that repatriation does not mean that refugees are not wanted in Namibia, but that they do not want them to become refugees forever.
Corliss praised the refugee settlement, saying that in the more than 20 years working for the United Nations, he has not seen an efficient and better-organised settlement than this.
"They (Namibian government)haven't just received people, they haven't just offered them protection," he said, after visiting the clinic and school where he launched the opening of five more classrooms. The UNHCR also donated an ambulance to the settlement.
"If people are forced to become refugees, it shouldn't be forever for generations, there should be a more normal future for them," Corliss added.
Refugees have three options when it comes to repatriation. The first is repatriation on a strictly voluntary basis. The other is local integration in the country where people have asylum or refugee status and the third is resettlement in a third country. The UNHCR system does not allow refugee status claims after the agency has verified that there are no conditions in the country of origin that qualify for UN protection.