ZAMBIA: Ugandan refugees return home

Thursday, May 22, 2008
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has begun the voluntary repatriation of Ugandan refugees in Zambia, some of whom have lived in the southern African country for over two decades.

The first group of 39 Ugandans, out of a total of 200 settled in the country, were repatriated by commercial flight on 21 May under the terms of a tripartite agreement between the governments of Zambia, Uganda and UNHCR. The programme is expected to run until the end of the year and cost US$210,000.

"Our target is to repatriate all willing Ugandans," UNHCR spokesman Kelvin Shimo told IRIN. "We are therefore appealing to all Ugandan refugees wishing to repatriate to come forward and register with us for return in 2008."

Ugandan refugees arrived in the country in 1985 as guests of the government, accompanying ousted Ugandan president Milton Obote, who was driven from power by then guerrilla leader Yoweri Museveni. Obote, Uganda's first post-independence prime minister, remained in exile in Zambia until he died of kidney failure in 2005 aged 80.

At the height of the conflicts in the Great Lakes region and neighbouring Angola in the 1990s, Zambia hosted around 300,000 refugees. That figure has fallen to about 113,000 since a political agreement ended 27 years of war in Angola, and there has been intermittent peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but the largest caseloads are still refugees from the DRC (55,434) and Angola (40,757).

"The refugee situation is still serious in Zambia; we still have big numbers in settlement camps and even outside the camps in urban areas. So, what we are doing at the moment is to focus on repatriation of those who volunteer to go back to their countries, and also help in the maintenance of those that are remaining in the country," Shimo said.

The voluntary repatriation of Angolans started in 2003, followed by Rwandans in 2004, and Congolese in 2007; now, Ugandans are going home.

A total of 74,000 Angolans have been formally repatriated, while an estimated 130,000 living outside the camps returned under their own steam. UNHCR plans to repatriate 19,336 Congolese refugees in 2008, in addition to the 7,323 that went home last year.