GENEVA - The continued mass expulsion of Congolese migrants from Angola could trigger a renewal of inter-ethnic violence in Democratic Republic of Congo's Kasai province, U.N. Human Rights Chief Michele Bachelet warned.
Since the beginning of October, Angola has forced an estimated 330,000 Congolese migrants across the border into Kasai, Kasai Central and Kwango provinces of the DRC.
The U.N. human rights office says the mass expulsions have involved excessive force and serious violations of human rights by both Angolan and DRC security forces. The U.N. confirms six deaths and says it has unverified reports of other killings, as well as at least 100 people injured.
Ravina Shamdasani, the U.N. human rights spokeswoman, says DRC security forces allegedly have subjected migrants to extortion and illegal taxation upon arrival in the town of Kamako.
She said Bachelet called on the Angolan government to halt the expulsions and said DRC authorities must protect the returning migrants from exploitation and violence.
"Given the continued presence of armed groups that are split along ethnic lines in the Kasais, we are warning of the risk of inter-communal violence if the situation is not handled carefully by the authorities. … Failing this, we fear we could see a repeat of the cycles of terrible violence that erupted in the Kasais in 2016," Shamdasani said.
In addition, she told VOA, there has been no accountability for grave human rights violations that took place in Kasai in 2016 and 2017.
"You know there were mass killings, massive sexual violence, burning of peoples' homes, a lot of people displaced, a lot of refugees who fled to neighboring countries as a result of that violence," Shamdasani said.
The Congolese migrants had been working as informal diamond miners in northeast Angola, but the government cracked down on the miners to reduce diamond smuggling and raise more money for its state coffers.
Angolan authorities have previously denied allegations of mass expulsions and brutality, insisting the migrants have returned home voluntarily. High Commissioner Bachelet is urging an investigation, and justice for the victims.