At least 347,100 Congolese have returned from Angola since 1 October 2018, according to the 'Direction Générale de Migration' (DGM) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Caritas, which is monitoring the return on the ground, estimates an even higher number of returnees (half a million people). Angolan authorities had set an ultimatum to all persons with an irregular migrant status to leave the country within 15 days, classifying the operation as targeting illegal immigration and illegal exploitation of informal mines.
The mass exodus is creating large humanitarian needs and protection concerns, especially for the estimated 90 000 children, often arriving in very poor condition. Five provinces are affected in the DRC, with Kasai province receiving the majority of returnees. Conditions in Greater Kasai have already been difficult and tensions linked to the 2016-17 conflict could easily regain momentum. Basic social services are non-existent. Humanitarian aid organisations have started to respond after carrying out needs assessments in the very hard-to-reach areas.
The response to the urgent humanitarian needs of the returnees is limited to certain geographical areas, in particular Kamako in Kasai. It focuses on providing basic health care, emergency shelters, installation of safe drinking water, identification and reunification of unaccompanied children and psychosocial support for affected people, as well as food assistance and nutritional support. Local health structures are overwhelmed. There is a risk of potential outbreaks, notably cholera. Food prices at local markets have considerably increased due to the influx of people, in a region which is already severely affected by food insecurity.
The United Nations Refugee Agency recalled that mass expulsions are contrary to obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that the "mass deportation of Congolese nationals from Angola has already resulted in serious human rights violations". In addition, any return, whether forced or voluntary, must be considered a risky endeavour given the current situation in Kasai and its neighbouring provinces.