UNHCR: Thousands of Angolans expelled from DRC in "dire" need of aid

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency has said that thousands of Angolans that were recently expelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The agency said that the Angolans are living in sites around the town of Mbanza Congo in northern Angola.

A UNHCR assessment team visited Mbanza Congo in northern Angola over the weekend. It reported that close to 30,000 people are living in and around three overcrowded reception centres near the Congolese border.

The UNHCR said that a "significant number" of Angolan refugees that had been "forcibly returned" to their country were among those in the reception centres.

"You have the compounding factors of not having latrines and people drinking possibly contaminated water and with the rain coming, this is a recipe for disaster," said a UNHCR protection officer, Yolande Ditewig. She told the Agence France-Presse news agency that "there is a lack of everything you can imagine, especially food and many people say they've not eaten for days."

UN refugee agency spokesman Andrej Mahecic said that initial assessments found that people at those centres are in critical need of shelter, food, medicine and sanitation facilities.

The supply of clean water is insufficient, according to Mahecic, and some of the Angolans were drinking from nearby contaminated rivers. As a consequence, many of the expelled families are reporting cases of diarrhea and vomiting.

"There are significant numbers of Angolan refugees among the forcibly returned. And, this is for us the most worrying aspect of this situation. Some of them say they had been rounded up and taken to the border despite the fact they carried documents certifying their refugee status. Others said they were forced back without having had a chance to take their identification documents or any of their belongings. Most of them were deported from the Bas Congo Province in southern DRC," Mahecic said.

He added that these forced returns are in response to the expulsion of large numbers of Congolese from Angola since December 2008. He says an official agreement between the DRC and Angola may finally end these tit-for-tat expulsions.

This, however, does not mean that the exodus will end in the near term. According to Mahetic, Angolan authorities expect further large scale returns of their nationals who no longer feel welcome in the DRC. At the request of the Angolan government, he said the UNHCR will provide assistance to those who have been expelled and are waiting to go home.