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Mass Expulsion of Congolese from Angola Could Spark Humanitarian Crisis

FILE - Children stand beside tents a refugee camp in Lovua, Angola, Sept. 13, 2017.
FILE - Children stand beside tents a refugee camp in Lovua, Angola, Sept. 13, 2017.

The United Nations refugee agency warns the mass expulsion of an estimated 200,000 Congolese from Angola into Congo’s unstable Kasai Central Province could trigger a humanitarian crisis.

Ethnic tensions that triggered a brutal conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 are still running high. The U.N. refugee agency says the arrival of another 200,000 people into the area could further destabilize this fragile region.

Over the past two weeks, Angola has expelled the Congolese migrants, who were working as informal miners in the northeastern part of the country. Angolan authorities say they want to shut down this illegal activity.

But, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says the sudden arrival of such a huge number of people has created a chaotic situation in Kasai, which is unprepared to handle 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 the security forces on both sides of the border,” he said.

Baloch says the UNHCR is also concerned about reports that a small number of refugees may have been caught up in the mass movement and been forced to return to the DRC. Angola currently hosts some 68,000 refugees and asylum seekers.

The UNHCR notes that mass expulsions are contrary to obligations under the African Charter. The agency is appealing to the governments of Angola and the DRC to work together to ensure safe and orderly returns.

In the meantime, it says those who have been forcibly returned are in dire straits. Most have few if any belongings and all are in need of food, water, shelter, and other basic services.