29 June 2012 The United Nations has announced that, as of Saturday, people who fled the civil wars in Liberia and Angola and remain abroad will no longer be regarded as refugees by the world body and host governments, bringing to an end two of the most protracted refugee situations in Africa.
Cessation clauses will enter into force tomorrow for refugees from Liberia and Angola on the basis that these countries have both enjoyed many years of peace and stability after bitter civil wars, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“We are working with the governments of origin and of asylum to find solutions for those refugees who wish either to return home or to remain in their host countries due to strong ties there,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva today.
He added that voluntary returns will continue to be assisted while possibilities for local integration and/or an alternative legal status are also being discussed.
In addition, refugees with protection concerns about returning to Liberia or Angola have the option to ask for an exemption to cessation, he noted. If approved by the authorities in their host country, they will maintain their refugee status.
In Liberia, the ending of refugee status will apply to people who left the country during the two civil wars that tore the West African nation apart between 1989 and 2003, killing more than 250,000 people and forcing some 750,000 to flee their homes.
From the time that voluntary repatriation to Liberia was launched in 2004, UNHCR has helped almost 135,000 people return, including more than 8,500 this year. A further 16,641 Liberian refugees have registered to return home and will be repatriated by UNHCR in the coming weeks.
“Liberian refugees who wish to remain in the country of asylum will have to meet the necessary legal requirements of that country,” Mr. Edwards pointed out.
UNHCR and its government partners have worked to ensure that they have the necessary documents and are also supporting integration through livelihood projects and training, as well as ensuring that refugees have access to education and health facilities. About 12,300 Liberians in exile for more than 20 years recently reconfirmed their desire to locally integrate.
In Angola, the ending of refugee status will apply to those who fled that country during the 1965-75 war of independence from Portugal and the subsequent civil war, which ended in 2002.
Last year, UNHCR and the Angolan Government launched a new organized return programme for Angolan refugees in neighbouring countries. Nearly 23,000 Angolans have returned home since then, and a further 26,000 have confirmed their intention to return.
The refugee agency is also discussing with host countries local integration options for people who do not wish to return to Angola. Some 51,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have said they do not want to repatriate, and the Zambian Government has offered to locally integrate up to 10,000 Angolan refugees, with international support.
UNHCR has also been supporting projects to help returnees reintegrate in Liberia and Angola. In Liberia, returnees have been given cash grants to help them get to their places of origin and to help rebuild their lives, and some of them have attended UNHCR-supported skills training programmes.
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