Returnees arrive home to ruined region

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An influx of repatriated Angolans to a flood-devastated region of the country is putting enormous pressure on locals, returnees and aid agencies alike.

ACT’s three members in Angola’s northern Uige province, which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo, warn that returnees coming from the DRC are being forced to live in a region that is unable to sustain its existing population, let alone newcomers.

The plight of Angolans who took shelter in the DRC from the late 1950s and throughout the civil war that ended in 2002 has been largely forgotten by the international community.

A recent agreement between the Angolan and DRC governments for Angolans to return saw the first wave of people come back in July. But it was quickly obvious a major problem resettling the population would emerge.

About 40,000 people will make the crossing this year. The second wave is scheduled to start in January 2012 when 117,000 will cross the border, bringing the total number of returnees to 157,000.

Many are abandoning long-established roots in the DRC, forced to leave because of poor relationships between the governments. In some cases, families are being separated.

Walking to uncertainty

Returnees come on foot to the border of Angola where government officials receive them and give them food and clothing. With little money, some sell the clothes to buy cassava and beans. They are sent to live in Uige - a region ruined by flooding last year, which affected 123,000 local people who must now contend with the massive influx of compatriots.

ACT says there has been little assistance, with the situation rapidly risking becoming a disaster if more help does not arrive. In May, ACT distributed food and other relief goods but far more assistance is required. ACT members urgently need funds to assist locals and returnees.

ACT Angola members have banded together to appeal for help responding to the crisis, as well as introducing long-term development activities aimed at ending the downward spiral of poverty. ACT is providing life-saving relief and advocating for better housing, education, health and the chance for people to obtain identity cards.

Survival selling leaves of trees

Most families survive by selling leaves of the trees used to make kikuanga, a food sold in Uige market. While the income is welcome, it is inadequate. Poverty is evident in the poor quality of houses, unhygienic facilities, and almost complete lack of cattle, goats and chicken and agricultural tools.

The plight of returnees is dismal. Francisco Sanu went to the DRC in 1959, but in returning to Angola has lost everything.

A Tsola woman, aged 25 with eight children, is sick with malaria and does not have help. Her husband is in the DRC and she relies on villagers’ support.

In other cases, families came to Angola leaving one member behind. Or vice versa. “I left my husband and children in the DRC and now am isolated here,” said Tsimba, 39. “I do not know how my chidren are there. My husband is Congolese.”

The field belonging to Cecilia, 63, was flooded causing her to lose everything – manioc, maize, beans, sweet potato. She needs seed and tools to start life again. “We are already old and have to spend a lot of time in the fields. Sometimes I am sick but I have to go to the field otherwise I would have died of hunger by now.”

ACT members mentioned in this story: Diakonia IERA, LWF and DCA.