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Zambia's oldest refugee celebrates 100th birthday

News Stories, 2 August 2011

© UNHCR/K.Shimo
A UNHCR staff member cuts the cake for centenarian Erculano Salugardo, (sitting and in a white shirt).

MAYUKWAYUKWA, Zambia, Aug 2 (UNHCR) As fellow Angolan refugees sang, danced and ululated, Erculano Salugardo celebrated his 100th birthday with gifts, toasts and goodwill messages in one of Africa's oldest refugee settlements.

The centenarian, believed to be the oldest refugee in Zambia, was in an exuberant mood during his landmark birthday party last Friday in the Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement. He even joined in the singing after advising well wishers that the best way to reach old age was to take care of your health.

The celebration was organized by UNHCR, Zambian government officials and other refugees in the settlement. A beaming Salugardo was presented with a cake and several gifts, including a new hut, mattress, blankets, food and clothing.

The only thing missing was his family. The birthday boy arrived in Zambia on New Year's Day 2001, after fleeing the civil war in his home country. He said it was the worst day of his life because he had to leave behind his wife and four daughters in Angola's Huambo province.

"I don't have any information about what happened to my wife and all my children back in Angola. I think about them a lot and my country," he told UNHCR, adding that he had not decided whether or not to return to his homeland later this year.

He was moved after arrival to Mayukwayukwa, a predominantly rural settlement set up in 1966 in western Zambia. Salugardo said his 10 years there had been mostly lonely. He spends most of the time in his hut, but likes to tell young Angolans about African folklore and about how important education is.

"I live very well with members of the community, who really support me. Sometimes I think of marrying because of loneliness. But there is no woman who will accept me at my age," lamented the 100-year-old, who has lost the sight in one eye because of a cataract.

Salugardo has been a farmer all his life, but now he relies on hired labour and well wishers to cultivate his land. One of his friends, Antonio Chitunda Kanyama, said Salugardo manages to keep his spirits up despite missing his family.

"We manage in our own way as old men to get by despite the numerous challenges we face," Kanyama noted. "We can't do most of the things we could do in the past." Salugardo is classified as a vulnerable refugee owing to his age and this means that he gets regular assistance.

UNHCR Representative to Zambia Joyce Mends-Cole congratulated Salugardo and said his knowledge, experience and wisdom could still benefit the community.

Zambia currently hosts 49,000 refugees, with the majority being Angolans. Between 2003 and 2010, a total of 76,500 Angolans repatriated from Zambia's refugee camps and settlements.

By Kelvin Shimo in Mayukwayukwa, Zambia




UNHCR country pages

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Antonio has been waiting 40 years to return to his home village in northern Angola. He fled to Democratic Republic of the Congo when the country was a Portuguese colony, and stayed away through years of civil war and during the peace that followed in 2002. Now, no longer classed as a refugee, he is finally going back.

Seated in a rickety chair in his family's rented apartment in Kinshasa on the eve of his departure, the 66-year-old Angolan was excited. "I feel joy when I think that I will go home. It's better to be a citizen of your own country than a refugee in another country. It's liberation," he said, flanked by his wife, sister and granddaughter.

Photographer Brian Sokol followed the four of them as they began their journey in Kinshasa on August 19, taking a seven-hour train journey to the town of Kimpese in Bas-Congo province and then reaching the border by bus. They were among the first group to go back home with the help of UNHCR under a third and final voluntary repatriation programme since 2002. The family faces many new challenges in Angola, but their joy was far greater than any apprehension. "I will dance when we arrive at the border," said Antonio's sister, Maria. UNHCR is organizing the return of nearly 30,000 former refugees to Angola.

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Children are the most vulnerable group, with some suffering from acute malnutrition. Older children are looking forward to resuming their education in a foreign land. Meanwhile, some 6,000 refugees are living in the Niger capital, Niamey, where many of them look for work so that they can send money back to relatives still in Mali.

Meanwhile, the future remains uncertain. Many people fear that continuing fighting inside Mali could lead to an accelerated exodus of refugees from Mali into neighbouring countries, including Niger.

The following photographs by UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux depict life for the refugees in Tabareybarey and Mangaize camps as well as in Niamey.

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