Responding to Returnees from Angola

Long after some conflicts have been resolved, we are still called upon to reach out in compassion to those whose lives were forever impacted by the conflict.  Often, WoC responds to those the rest of the world—certainly the mainstream media—has long forgotten.  This is the case in the African country of Angola.  Due to Angola's lengthy (1975-2002) civil war, large numbers of Angolans fled the country seeking safety in neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia. Others fled the country in 1961 at the time of de-colonization (from Portugal) and stayed across borders for more than 40 years.

The Angolan authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimate that there are more than 114,000 Angolan refugees still living in neighboring countries who are likely to return when conditions improve within the country. The repatriation of refugees from the neighboring DRC began at the Uige border on May 1 of this year. In the coming months, authorities expect between 8,000 to 12,000 people to be returning to Angola. The majority of them are women, elderly people, orphans and single mothers.

The Angolan government has created three reception camps for such people. Returnees stay there for three days before being referred to villages for reintegration.  Problems vary from challenging to poor conditions at the camps to equally poor conditions in areas where the returnees are being resettled—including no transportation, no access to portable water, and poor health and education services. This is leading to conflicts in the resettlement areas.  A shortage of rainfall has also been problematic as the drought worsens and contributes to the challenge of food insecurity. The United Nations claims that 1.8 million Angolans may soon require food assistance.

Week of Compassion’s primary ecumenical partner, Church World Service, is supporting efforts of ACT Angola Forum member Igreja Evangélica Reformada de Angola (the Angola Evangelical Reformed Church), known as IERA.  The WoC and CWS-supported ACT Alliance response is already providing 200 families -- about 1,000 persons -- with rice; beans; vegetable oil; bars of soap; buckets; and blankets.  We will continue to respond over the long-term with food, utensils, tools, shelter and seeds.  Long-term food security will be an important priority, including determining the precise nutritional needs of affected villages.  The food security component of our response is key and over the next 12-18 months a strategy of food and nutrition security—through education, food supplement and seed provision and health monitoring with 400 returnee families is planned.  This strategy is aimed at reducing food and nutrition insecurity. 

Other possible long-term responses include a water supply project and training for returnee leaders, as well as possible psycho-social support for returnees.  As always, we want to respond holistically to the needs of our sisters and brothers.  Thanks to you, WoC is able to respond to emergency needs as well as long-term, sustainable development essentials. 

Thank you for your courageous compassion as we continue to reach out to those long forgotten.