Mass Congolese returns from Angola could lead to a humanitarian crisis

By agency reporter
October 17, 2018

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned by a fast-developing humanitarian situation in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sparked by mass returns from Angola over the last two weeks.

Congolese government officials estimate that some 200,000 nationals have arrived in Kasai Province alone, with more arrivals reported in neighbouring Kasai Central Province. Their arrivals follow an expulsion order by the authorities in Angola targeting migrants. The Congolese were working in the informal mining sector, in the northeast of Angola, before being asked to leave.

UNHCR is appealing to the governments of Angola and the DRC to work together to ensure a safe and orderly population movement. Mass expulsions are contrary to obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the organisation ask both sides to respect the human rights of those affected. Without such cooperation the returns could easily create a humanitarian crisis in the already fragile Kasai region.

There have been reports of violent clashes in some areas of Angola as law enforcement agents have attempted to enforce the leave order. The deadline for compliance with this order expired yesterday (Monday 15 October 2018).

With the deadline having passed, thousands of returnees are on the Congolese side of the border. More were seen walking towards the DRC border or arriving by cars, bus, minibuses or trucks on the Angola side of the border from where they walk to cross taking their belongings with them.

People have been arriving in DRC through different border points with whatever belongings they can bring. "We have heard complaints of violence, including sexual violence and harassment, bodily frisking and theft of belongings, at the hands of security forces on both sides of the border", said UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch

The Congolese are returning to a desperate situation, looking for safety and aid. With more arriving every day, thousands are reported to be stuck at and near the border, with limited means to travel onwards to their home places. In addition, many are likely to face difficulties due to destruction caused by recent conflict in the area.  Ethnic tensions still run high since the Kasai conflict in 2016 and 2017.  

The town of Kamako in Kasai Province, on the border with Angola, is over-crowded with people staying overnight outdoors, in host families, church compounds, and on streets.

UNHCR teams are currently working with UN and other partners in the region to assess humanitarian needs, trying to ensure those most at risk – including unaccompanied children – are taken care of. New arrivals need food, water, shelter and other basic services both at the border and once they arrive in their villages of origin. A primary need raised by new arrivals is transport to their homes. Local authorities in the region have requested international assistance.

UNHCR is also concerned on the reports that the new arrivals may have included a small number of refugees, caught up in the mass movement and forced to return to the DRC. THe UNHCR is working to verify these reports and is screening returnees at the border, working closely with the Government of Angola, to prevent forced refugee returns.

Angola currently hosts some 68,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily from DRC.

* UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org/uk/

[Ekk/4]

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