The U.N. refugee agency reports it has airlifted emergency relief items from South Africa to Angola to help alleviate the plight of tens of thousands of Angolans expelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo last month. The UNHCR says many refugees were among those who were forcibly deported to Angola.
The U.N. refugee agency says a Boeing 747 jet took thousands of tents, sleeping mats, and blankets, as well as one prefabricated warehouse Saturday from Johannesburg, South Africa to the Angolan capital, Luanda.
UNHCR Spokesman Andrej Mahecic says the items were immediately loaded onto army planes provided by the Angolan government and sent to Uige and Zaire provinces in northern Angola, bordering the DRC.
"According to Angolan authorities, the number of Angolans who were expelled plus those who came back of their own accord in the wake of the expulsions now totals 50,000," he said. "Most of those expelled had refugee status in the DRC."
"Many were not even given any opportunity to collect their personal belongings before being forced back to Angola. They are now living in extremely difficult conditions. In one place visited by UNHCR last week, Kitumu in Uige province, we found some 500 people sleeping on the cement floor of an old school building without sleeping mats or mattresses," he added.
Mahecic says many of the returnees became separated from family members during the expulsions.
He says the UNHCR is particularly worried about the forcible return of Angolan refugees to the country they fled years ago, fearing persecution.
"The High Commissioner visited Congo recently and, in fact, he raised his concern over these expulsions with the highest authorities in the DRC," said the spokesman. "Both governments agreed to stop with this practice. So, for the time being, there should be no more expulsions."
Mahecic says the UNHCR already was helping prepare the return of those Angolans who wished to go home before the expulsions began. He says the agency looks forward to working with the Angolan and DRC governments to arrange a safe and dignified repatriation of Angolan refugees.
The UNHCR reports there are more than 100,000 refugees registered in the DRC and a further 40,000 in Zambia, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Namibia.