D.R. Congo: Thousands Expelled from Angola amidst Abuses, Assistance on Way
"We have been following the situation very closely from its onset, and humanitarian missions to the areas are underway", said Fidèle Sarassoro, Humanitarian Coordinator for the DRC. The United Nations first learned of the abuses on 23 October from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Between September and October, the humanitarian community's Protection Cluster reported the arrival of 6,621 people to two areas of Western Kasai province, while NGOs in Bandundu Province reported the arrival of a further 322 people in the Tembo area. The individuals are reportedly illegal immigrants to Angola, mostly DRC citizens, but also including some citizens of other African countries.
"We are seriously concerned by continuous reports of human rights abuses, including sexual violence", said Mohamed Boukry, Regional Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), "We call upon all parties to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of affected populations in full respect of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee laws". UNHCR is the lead agency of the Protection Cluster.
According to the results of an inter-agency mission to the Tembo area, out of 322 people expelled, 99 women and 15 men suffered sexual violence. "The sexual abuses have been confirmed by doctors who had received prior training in detecting sexual violence", said Francesco Mazzarelli, Country Director of the NGO Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP), which is present in the area. "The victims were also deprived of their belongings including clothes, and many allege that they have been mistreated. One woman died in hospital due to the violence suffered".
According to a preliminary report of the Protection Cluster, over 600 persons among those expelled to the Western Kasai Province also allege that they suffered sexual violence. These claims are still being examined, and an inter-agency mission is due to visit the area this week to further look into the cases.
"We call on the authorities of the two countries to investigate where the alleged abuses happened and who perpetrated them, and to proceed in accordance with applicable legislation", said Max Hadorn, Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the DRC, "We also request that all measures be taken to prevent abuses during any future expulsions".
The humanitarian community is providing assistance to those expelled. In Tembo, CISP is providing clothes, shoes, hygiene kits, food, medication, as well as psychosocial assistance. Humanitarian needs in Western Kasai are still being assessed, with a view to dispatching any aid that may be required.
Expulsions of illegal immigrants between Angola and the DRC are a recurrent phenomenon, related to widespread poverty and precarious employment opportunities. In October 2009, tens of thousands were expelled in both directions. They were stranded in border areas for days without food, water, shelter, or proper sanitation facilities. "It is crucial for expulsions to happen in an orderly manner", said Mr. Sarassoro, "so that humanitarian problems can be prevented, including potential epidemics".
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