DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 300,000 Congolese forced out of Angola have flooded into a conflict-prone region where they have no food or shelter, aid agencies said on Wednesday, warning of an emerging crisis.
Angola this month launched a crackdown on illegal diamond mining, expelling hundreds of thousands of migrant workers back to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Most have gone to Kasai province, where in the border town of Kamako, with a population of about 20,000, some 50,000 migrants are stuck with no resources or means to travel home, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Others have continued north on foot, with children and belongings piled on bicycles, aid workers said.
The influx is putting pressure on scarce resources in Kasai, where a militia conflict in 2016 and 2017 forced 1.5 million people to flee their homes and left ethnic tensions simmering.
Between 330,000 and 340,000 Congolese have returned from Angola since Oct. 1, according to the United Nations, and they continue to flow in.
“The communities in Kasai are doing everything they can to help, but they are already struggling with poverty, hunger and disease,” said Chals Wontewe, country director for global aid agency Oxfam.
“Families are sheltering up to 30 of those who have returned from Angola, yet their own children are suffering from severe malnutrition,” he said.
At least 80,000 children among the returnees need aid, with the risk of malnutrition high as food prices around Kamako have sharply risen, said UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.
“A main need is onward transport, as well as food and healthcare,” said Andreas Kirchhof, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“So far, the situation is relatively calm, but there is certainly a risk that ethnic tensions could be exacerbated,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The U.N. human rights office last week condemned “serious human rights abuses” committed during the expulsions and said at least six people had been killed, reportedly by Angolan security forces - which Angola denied.
Returnees have also been subjected to extortion and illegal taxation by the defense and security forces in Congo, it said.
Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Jason Fields; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org