KINSHASA, 6 March 2007 (IRIN) - About 43,400 Congolese expelled from diamond mines in northern Angola are living in precarious conditions near the Congolese border, humanitarian officials said.
Photo: Olu Sarr/IRIN
Internally displaced people receiving help from the Catholic charity, Caritas. Thousands of people have been expelled from Angola but have no means of survival in the DRC
Angolan authorities began expelling the Congolese in 2006, accusing them of being illegal diamond miners.
"It is hard for these people to return to their homes since they came from far away and they have no means of getting there," Guy-Marin Kamandji, the officer in charge of communication for the Catholic charity, Caritas, said on Tuesday in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"Some of the expelled women and children are victims of gang-rape by soldiers of the Angolan army," Kamandji said. "They arrived in their tens of thousands, crossing the border on foot, without any belongings, barefoot and often in very poor health."
Jean-Tobbie Okala, the spokesman for the United Nations Mission in the DRC, MONUC, said 70 percent of those expelled were men, while the rest were women and children.
The latest wave of those expelled arrived in the DRC in January.
According to MONUC, the largest group of those expelled - estimated to be 37,600 people - returned to the DRC through the province of Bandundu, which shares the longest border with Angola. Another 5,800 returned from Angola through other Congolese provinces.
Caritas, which has a presence in Bandundu, said no aid had been organised for these expelled Congolese, most of whom are living with foster families, placing a heavy burden on these poor households.
The Minister for Internal Affairs, Denis Kalume, said his Angolan counterpart had informed him of the expulsions. He confirmed that those expelled were illegal immigrants.
"We were informed but we are not prepared to take care of all these people," he said. "The Angolan government should have given us more time to get prepared."
He said officials from both governments would meet to resolve the issue.
However, Kamandji said those expelled were without means. "Most of them have lost all their property and resources," he said. "Plundered in Angola, some of them lost their hard-earned wealth after having worked for more than a decade in these areas."
A meeting of MONUC, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations was scheduled for Tuesday to prepare a team to assess the humanitarian needs of those expelled.
Previous expulsions of Congolese from Angolan mines have been accompanied by accusations of rape, beating, looting and other human rights violations.