KANANGA, KASAI OCCIDENTAL PROVINCE, 17 June 2011 (IRIN) – “I have been left without anything – I don’t even have anywhere to go now.” Thirty-year-old Mwamba Kashane, one of the thousands of Congolese to be expelled from Angola in the past month, recounts his ordeal from Kamako, a town close to the Angolan border in the province of Kasai Occidental.
An electronics vendor who has been living in Angola for 3 years, Kashane says he was picked up from the street by Angolan military officials on the night of 25 May and taken to a prison for five days before being transported to the border with DRC and deported.
“We were tortured, some of us were hit with machetes. We ate almost nothing. A woman with us in prison had an abortion,” Kashale told IRIN. “Now I am trying to reach my family in Mbuji-Mayi [eastern DRC]. We did nothing wrong.”
According to the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP), an estimated 10, 961 Congolese were expelled from Angola in the month of May alone, 7, 178 of whom have arrived in Kasai Occidental Province. The CISP figures have been validated by DRC’s General Department of Migration. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that 80,000 were expelled from Angola to DRC between January 2010 and March 2011.
The expulsions are not a new phenomenon. From 2003 to 2009, 140 000 Congolese were deported from Angola, according to OCHA. In 2009, a further 18,000 DRC nationals were expelled from Angola, while 39,000 Angolans were deported from the DRC. The May 2011 expulsions were particularly violent, with 1,048 Congolese men and women reported as having been raped or sexually humiliated by the Angolan police and military, according to CISP. In the prison and during the journey, returnees also said they were subjected to torture, physical violence, separation of children from their mothers, confinement in overcrowded cells and body searches without gloves in the anus and vagina.
“The women in Luiza said they were forced not to wear underwear by the Angolan military. You can obviously understand what their intention was. African women are reluctant to say they have been raped and so they need psycho-social support. Very few of the women can say they have not been assaulted by the military,” said Clovis Buala, regional coordinator for CISP in Kasai Occidental. He added that Congolese inmates at a prison in the region of Lunda Norte, Angola, had medication added to their food to make them tired in order to prevent them from escaping and to facilitate their transport en masse to the border.
Origins of the expulsions
The expulsions are symptomatic of the tense relations between Luanda and Kinshasa, rooted in disputes over border demarcation and natural resources. Angola’s alleged loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to the unauthorized artisanal exploitation of diamonds is a particular bone of contention.
“Our Congolese compatriots go to live in Angola without documents, like the `sans papiers’ in Europe, in a country that belongs to others. Most spend their time exploiting diamonds as artisanal miners. The women follow their husbands or go to do business and commerce,” Father Pierre Mulumba of Caritas Luebo told IRIN.
A map of Angola and Cabinda Humanitarian agencies are working with communities along the border in the DRC to assist the deportees until they are able to reintegrate and begin a new life. “In the past, the returnees arriving in the DRC lived in overcrowded camps. They had no access to toilets and clean water; they didn’t eat as they should have. We want to avoid that happening again, so we work with the populations at the border to accept them. But as the expulsions continue, people are becoming increasingly suffocated,” said Mulumba.
Agencies like Caritas, CISP and the Food and Agriculture Organization have been struggling to provide different kinds of assistance to the deported as they arrive, including medical and psycho-social support, particularly for women who have been raped and those living with HIV, as well as food, security, accommodation, clothing and means of transport to reach their families in the rest of the country.
Undermining this humanitarian response is the tendency of those expelled to return to Angola, only to be thrown out again.
“We have some Congolese here who have been expelled twice or even three times. The socio-economic situation in the DRC is not stable and they can’t find jobs here, so they return to Angola,” said CISP’s Clovis Buala.
Despite their illegal status in Angola, Congolese artisanal miners find some financial security from working in Angolan mines. “Here in the DRC, mining areas have been sold to foreigners and artisanal miners are frequently exploited,” said Buala. “When someone recruits you, he takes care of your expenses for food, for medical care, but after one month, you have to repay everything he has spent. In Angola, the patron does not expect to recuperate what he has spent – that means that the conditions of life are easier than here.”
Angolan diamond mines have attracted thousands of Congolese miners over the years, while thousands of Angolans migrated to DRC during the 30-year Angolan civil war which ended in 2002.
In October 2009, the governments of both countries issued a communiqué in which they agreed to “immediately stop the expulsions of citizens of their respective states”, but despite the pledge, the expulsions have continued.
A 2010 policy brief by Petrus de Kock from the South African Institute for International Affairs suggests there is a longer-term rift between the two countries at government level, with Angolan oil companies “illegally drilling and exploiting oil reserves in DRC territory”. Disputes over natural resources in border areas are becoming “potential flashpoints in regional relations”, according to de Kock.