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Angola expels thousands of Congolese migrants in crackdown on illegal diamond mining

Tazua Falls, Rio Kwango: One of Angola's richest sources of gem diamonds. Photo by Brian Harrington Spier via Flickr CC-By-2.0.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated that since the beginning of October 2018, the government of Angola has expelled some 330,000 undocumented migrants, mainly to the provinces of Kasai, Kasai-Central and Kwango in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Many of the undocumented migrants have left due to “Operation Transparency,” a major government-led initiative to crack down on diamond smuggling. Angolan security officials say diamonds worth more than $1 million have been seized and over 200 illegal diamond trading sites were shut down.

Via interviews with residents of Kamako, a border town in Kasai, the UN Human Rights Office received reports that Angolan security forces used excessive force during these expulsions, resulting in deaths and injuries.

Angolan officials have denied use of force or xenophobia in their approach to the crackdown on illegal diamond mining.

The report, prepared by OCHA in the DRC, in collaboration with humanitarian partners, covering the period from November 1 to 16, 2018, mentions 362,097 Congolese involved. However, it warns that this data is not entirely accurate and that the numbers could be even higher:

Les chiffres ci-dessus ont été validés par la DGM [ Direction Générale de Migration] au niveau national et font donc office de chiffres vérifiés. Cependant, comme toutes statistiques officielles sujettes à un processus de vérification, il est probable que ces données ne reflètent pas encore totalement l’ampleur de l’afflux de la période la plus récente.

Ainsi, les données collectées par les antennes locales de la DGM et celles provenant de certaines organisations de la société civile et ONG semblent indiquer un nombre plus important d’arrivants dans certaines provinces. C’est notamment le cas pour les données récoltées par le système de veille humanitaire assuré par l’ONG Caritas et couvrant toutes les provinces affectées, dont le rôle d’alerte précoce doit être vu en complémentarité des chiffres vérifiés de la DGM. Actuellement, ce système de veille rapporte que près de 522 200 personnes seraient retournées de l’Angola vers les provinces du Kasaï, du Kasaï Central, du Kwango, du Kongo Central, de Lualaba et de Lomami entre le 1er octobre et le 10 novembre 2018.

The above figures have been validated by DRC's General Department of Migration (GDM) at the national level and thus serve as verified figures. However, like any official statistics subject to a verification process, it is likely that these data do not yet fully reflect the magnitude of the most recent influx.

The data collected by local branches of the GDM and data collected by civil society organizations and NGOs thus indicates a larger number of arrivals in certain provinces. This is particularly true for data collected by the humanitarian monitoring system monitored by the NGO Caritas, which covers all the affected provinces and whose early warning should be taken into account along with the GDM's verified numbers. Currently, the monitoring system reports that some 522,200 people were sent out of Angola toward the provinces of Kasai, Kasai-Central, Kwango, Kongo Central, Lualaba, and Lomami between October 1 and November 10, 2018.

The following video documents the plight of thousands of Congolese who were expelled from Angola. Some were accused of stealing diamonds from Angolan soil:

Having left Angola in haste, migrants brought only the bare minimum or fled empty-handed. KongoTimes cited Anna Praz, head of International Committee of the Red Cross operations in Kamako:

Ce sont des personnes qui sont parties avec très peu de moyens, sans avoir beaucoup de temps pour se préparer, parfois arrivant les mains vides ou avec très peu de biens. Et certains d’entre eux ont fui sous la peur … Et maintenant ils se retrouvent dans un endroit pour eux qui est quasiment étranger, parce qu’ils ont été pendant longtemps loin du Congo, et parmi eux des personnes n’ont plus vraiment beaucoup de contacts avec leur famille depuis quelques années.

These people left with very little, and they didn't have much time to get ready. They're turning up here empty-handed or with very few possessions. And some of them were frightened when they left … And now they're in a place which is more or less foreign to them, because they've been away from the Congo for a long time, and some of them have had no contact with their families for several years.

In a post on October 15, Le Potentiel Online denounced the human rights violations to which these migrants have been subjected:

La majorité de ces compatriotes ont été maltraités et dépouillées par les forces de sécurités angolaises avant d’être expulsés comme des bêtes. Tout ceci se passe sans qu’aucune autorité de Kinshasa ne puisse lever le ton. Comble de l’humiliation, depuis qu’ils sont sur le territoire congolais, ces compatriotes refoulés sont logés à la belle étoile, dans le dénuement total. Des milliers de Congolais sont passés de l’humiliation, en Angola, et au calvaire, sur leur propre territoire, dans l’indifférence totale de Kinshasa.

The majority of these compatriots were mistreated and robbed by Angolan security forces before being forced out like animals. All this happened without any authorities in Kinshasa speaking up. To add insult to injury, since they have been in Congolese territory, these cast-out migrants have been sleeping outdoors, in total destitution. Thousands of Congolese have gone from humiliation in Angola to suffering in their own country while Kinshasa remains totally indifferent.

For the past five years, the DRC has endured ongoing conflict between supporters of President Kabila and political opposition.

According to the Oxfam country director for the DRC, Chals Wontewe, some of the expelled migrants have been taken in by individuals who are themselves fighting poverty, hunger, and illness:

Nous avons rencontré des familles qui hébergent jusqu’à trente personnes rentrées d’Angola, alors qu’au sein du foyer ils ont des enfants qui souffrent de malnutrition sévère.

We've met with families who are sheltering up to thirty people coming from Angola, while they have children suffering from severe malnutrition at home.

Malnourished, the expelled migrants suffer from various illnesses. Journalist Vignikpo Akpéné reported that on October 23, 15 people had already died of tuberculosis, adding:

Le responsable de l’hôpital de Kamako, en RDC, le Dr Miko Mikobi a souligné que   ‘tous ces morts sont dus à la sous-alimentation et à des maladies, principalement la tuberculose ‘.

Ce médecin dit avoir déjà reçu ‘318 malades, parmi les expulsés, dont la plupart souffre de la tuberculose.’

The head of the hospital in Kamako, DRC, Dr. Miko Mikobi, stressed that ‘all of these deaths are due to undernourishment and illnesses, mainly tuberculosis.’ The doctor reported already having seen ‘318 patients from among the expelled migrants, most of whom have tuberculosis.’

Angolan women, as wives of Congolese men, have also been expelled or chose to follow their husbands:

These Angolan women, wives of Congolese men expelled from Angola, follow their husbands to Kamako (Kasai). Nearly 200,000 Congolese have already left the province of Lunda Norte. The conditions in the DRC are not sufficient; many are sleeping outdoors with their wives and children.

This has also affected Congolese children born in Angola who only speak Portuguese, not French. One mother spoke to Slate Afrique:

‘Tous nos enfants sont nés en Angola et ne parlent que le portugais’, raconte la femme d'une quarantaine d'années qui vivait dit-elle depuis dix ans avec son mari à Lucapa, dans la province angolaise du Lunda Norte…

‘Soudain, le lundi, nous avons vu des jeunes garçons de la communauté Tchiokwé avec les policiers angolais commencer à incendier les maisons de tous ceux qu'ils prenaient pour étrangers. Arrivés chez nous, ils ont blessé mon mari à la machette et nous avons été obligés de partir avec ce que nous avons pu prendre’, raconte-t-elle, en écho à d'autres témoignages de violences communautaires qui font même état de morts.

‘All our children were born in Angola and only speak Portuguese,’ said the woman in her forties who had lived with her husband for the past ten years in Lucapa, in the Angolan province of Lunda Norte. ‘Suddenly, on Monday, we saw youths from the Chokwe community with Angolan policemen starting to burn the homes of those perceived to be foreigners. When [Angolan police] came to our house, they attacked my husband with a machete and we were forced to flee, taking whatever little we could carry,’ she said, echoing other reports of communal violence, some of which even caused deaths.

While the largest expulsions affected Congolese citizens, Angola also expelled other Africans. As Cheik Sidya wrote on the website Le360 Afrique, at a time when Africa seeks unity, various nations have also taken measures to round up and expel foreigners using inhumane tactics.

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