Displaced Angolans return home to more hardship

Originally published
The Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council has now updated its country profile on internal displacement in Angola .A summary is presented below. The Database and the country profile can be accessed at, or the complete profile can be sent to you by e-mail on request (
More than 1 million internally displaced people (IDPs) returned to their areas of origin in Angola following the ceasefire in April 2002. Many more of the remaining 2.8 million IDPs are expected to follow in 2003. Yet returning IDPs face ongoing human rights abuses and grim humanitarian conditions. Those IDPs returning to areas without humanitarian support and with no basic social services in place will be among the most vulnerable populations in 2003. The UN is requesting US$ 386 million in its final emergency appeal for Angola, aimed at meeting critical needs and paving the way for future development. But donors are wary of supporting a country whose oil industry is one of the strongest in Africa and whose vast diamond wealth consistently eludes ordinary Angolans.

Massive return

Almost one year after the end of a civil war that killed more than half a million people and displaced more than one third of the country's 12 million population, Angolan IDPs continue to fight for survival.

The April 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) ended 27 years of war and provided the momentum for huge numbers of Angolan IDPs to return home. Approximately 1.1 million IDPs resettled or returned to their areas of origin by the end of November. Of these, however, only 15 percent moved under an organized plan (UN OCHA, 19 December 2002).

Protection concerns

Despite national legislation providing for minimum standards of resettlement and return ('Norms'), and training given to provincial officials on how to implement it, numerous human rights abuses have been reported in connection with the return and resettlement process. Local authorities have in some cases forcibly returned displaced populations. Human Rights Watch reported that in May 2002, the entire population of Trumba, in Bié province, was forced back to its area of origin by local authorities without proper assistance. The rights organization also reported forced return and restrictions to freedom of movement in three other provinces (HRW, January 2003).

Displaced people remain subject to harassment and extortion by undisciplined soldiers at checkpoints. Violence, including rape of women, and even killings continue to be reported (HRW, January 2003). While the UN states that "war-related violations of human rights, including forced displacement, violent attacks on civilian communities and abductions of women and children have virtually disappeared since the cessation of hostilities", it does report ongoing violations. These include harassment, looting extortion, intimidation, physical abuse, arbitrary detention and other forms of sexual exploitation. Violations affecting IDPs (as well as ex-combatants and their families) also include return outside of the Norms, restrictions on freedom of movement and exclusion from social services and humanitarian assistance (UN, November 2002).

During the January 2003 visit to Angola of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a consortium of international NGOs working in the country (CONGA) further highlighted a range of human rights violations suffered by returning IDPs, mainly at the hands of Angolan authorities including the army and national police. These include forced return and false incentives for return, inhibition of free movement, and physical and sexual abuse. Protection of vulnerable mobile populations, said CONGA, is a paramount concern in Angola today.

War continues in Cabinda

Grave human rights abuses against civilians, including some forcibly displaced, have also been reported in the northern enclave of Cabinda. While the rest of Angola celebrated peace, government forces renewed a military campaign in 2002 against separatist rebels in the oil-rich territory. Human rights activists in Angola collected testimonies of alleged abuses - carried out mainly by government forces - including summary executions, murders, disappearances, forced displacement, torture, rape and looting (IRIN, 12 December 2002; HRW, January 2003). Calls upon the Angolan government to acknowledge - never mind investigate and stop such violations - appear so far to have fallen on deaf ears.

Humanitarian needs still overwhelming

The rapid return of vast numbers of Angolan IDPs to their home areas has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation, the true scale of which only became apparent when aid agencies were finally granted access to vast areas of the country previously cut off by the war (MSF, 24 April 2002). Many IDPs have returned to areas with neither infrastructure nor basic services such as water, health and education, in place. They face hunger and disease, and in many cases, the added risk of landmines. Most of the areas of return are far from major roads, and only accessible by roads that have not yet been de-mined (MSF, 1 October 2002).

A BBC report, in November 2002, described the situation in the remote village of Cumbila, Huambo province, where residents had flooded back home after the civil war ended. Because of its remoteness, there was no humanitarian assistance in Cumbila. One elderly woman, who lost four of her five children to starvation, "like most villagers... spends most of her days hunting for anything edible: rats, insects or wild leaves." (BBC, 25 November 2002). And Cumbila is far from unique. In Cuando Cubango province, MSF reported "The gravity of the situation and the lack of food is so severe that our teams even saw handicapped people, with prostheses and crutches, start to walk the 50 kilometres that separates them from Mavinga" (MSF, 30 August 2002).

A similar pattern can be seen across much of Angola. The UN estimated that critical humanitarian needs may emerge in at least 50 percent of areas to which IDPs had returned by the end of 2002 (UN SC, 12 December 2002). More than 2 million highly vulnerable Angolans will require life-saving assistance in 2003 - the majority of them returning IDPs (UN, November 2002).

Constrained response

As a result of the sheer scale of suffering and need, humanitarian organizations in Angola are overstretched and under-resourced. Lack of funding has been the main constraint affecting humanitarian operations over the past year, forcing agencies to prioritize among acutely vulnerable populations and slowing down emergency response (UN, November 2002). The World Food Programme, for example, warned in August 2002 that it faced dwindling food stocks just as the number of hungry people was soaring, and that pledges from international donors were insufficient (WFP, 29 August 2002). The UN has requested US$ 386 million in its 2003 Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal, but with donor skepticism of the Angolan government remaining high, this will be an ambitious target to meet.

Donors skeptical

Many donors and aid workers ask the question, how can a country so rich in minerals not afford to feed its own people? Angola's offshore oil industry accounts for over 90 percent of state revenue, and the country is the world's fourth largest diamond producer. Allegations of corruption and embezzlement are rife. According to a leaked International Monetary Fund report, about US$ 1 billion went missing in 2002 - approximately one third of the entire state revenue.

Although the government of Angola was one of the first state authorities to adopt and use the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, it has consistently failed to live up to its responsibilities to its people (MSF, HRW, March 2002). "The government is not legitimate, it is only serving its own interests and is stunningly indifferent to the needs of its own people", the Guardian quotes Doug Steinberg, a director of CARE, as saying.

The Angolan government is seeking substantial donor support in order to kick-start its national reconstruction programme, that includes the resettlement of IDPs as well as the reintegration of ex-combatants. However, many donors will first expect firmer commitment to fiscal transparency and clear efforts to end alleged corruption and graft from the Angolan government (IRIN, 3 February 2003).

Updated February 2003
The country profile includes complete reference to the sources and documents used.