The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Friday lamented that the mass deportation of Congolese nationals from Angola has resulted in serious human rights violations by security forces on both sides of the border, and left at least 330,000 returnees in an extremely precarious situation.
Since the beginning of October, some 330,000 people have reportedly crossed from Angola, mostly into the Kasai, Kasai Central and Kwango provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo following an expulsion order by the Government of Angola targeting irregular migrants.
In interviews with people in the border town of Kamako in Kasai, the UN Human Rights Office received reports indicating that security forces in Angola used excessive force in their operations to deport the Congolese nationals. The team has verified information about six deaths, reportedly at the hands of security forces, but has also received many other allegations of killings that it has not been able to fully verify. Reports also suggest at least 100 people were injured.
Several migrants also alleged that upon their arrival in Kamako, they were subjected to extortion and illegal taxation by the defence and security forces in the DRC. There have been allegations of arbitrary detention of returning migrants. Some of the migrants are being hosted by families or in ad hoc shelters, but many are sleeping in the streets, with inadequate access to health and food, severe water shortages and lack of proper sanitation.
“International law and African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights forbid the mass expulsion of non-nationals without individual assessment or other due process guarantees. In expelling such a massive number of people in such a short time, Angola has placed tens of thousands of families at severe risk,” High Commissioner Bachelet said.
“I call on the Government of Angola to halt any ongoing deportations until it can be assured that any returns will be carried out in full respect of the rule of law and the human rights of all affected migrants. I also urge the Government to ensure that security forces and others responsible for violations in the course of these expulsions are held accountable.”
Bachelet also urged the Government of the DRC to ensure that the returnees are protected from extortion by security forces and violence by others, particularly given the continued lack of accountability for the grave human rights violations that occurred in the Kasais between 2016 and 2017. There are reports that individuals of Tshokwe ethnicity joined Angolan security forces in carrying out the expulsions. Given the continued presence of armed groups split along ethnic lines in the Kasais, High Commissioner Bachelet warned of the risk of inter-communal violence if the situation is not handled carefully by the authorities.
“I urge the Government of the DRC to ensure that members of security forces that may be responsible for violations, past and present, against people – regardless of their ethnic affiliations – are subjected to investigations, with a view to ensuring justice for the victims,” she said. “Failing this, I fear we could see a repeat of the cycles of terrible violence that erupted in the Kasais in 2016.”
The High Commissioner also called on the Government of the DRC and the international community to redouble efforts to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the returnees in Kasai, Kasai Central and Kwango.
Angola currently hosts some 68,000 refugees and asylum seekers.