The expulsion of Congolese from Angola over the course of the last month is truly shocking and risk further destabilizing the situation in Kasai,” said Ulrika Blom, NRC DR Congo Country Director. “Several hundred thousand people flooding across the border to Congo puts an even greater strain on an already dire humanitarian situation.”
During the month of October, an estimated 360,000 Congolese have poured across the nine border crossings that the Democratic Republic of Congo shares with Angola. The people coming across the border are a mixed population of longstanding migrant workers, as well as the thousands of refugees who had fled Congo when the Kasai regional conflict broke out in the latter half of 2016 and into 2017.
An expulsion of unprotected Congolese citizens in such large numbers over a short period, poses a massive threat to the already fragile and unstable context in the Greater Kasai Region. At least 2 million people in the region have returned to their places of origin while 1.3 million remain displaced. With the funding of the Congo Humanitarian Response Plan well under 50 per cent and with a thin humanitarian presence in the region, there is a very serious risk that this latest influx of people in need could fuel conflict and cause hundreds of thousands of people in need to battle over the meagre assistance available.
“Lacklustre donor response to the overall humanitarian crisis in DR Congo has come to haunt us with this latest emergency at the Congo-Angola border,” said Blom. “The 2018 humanitarian budget is basically obsolete because of the sheer number of crises and setbacks we have experienced across the country over the last three months.”
The conditions that the expelled face once they return to Congo are shocking. The risk of waterborne disease is high due to the lack of latrines and sanitation systems. People are unable to bathe regularly due to lack of potable water in border towns like Kamako. Thousands are sleeping outdoors, putting their security at risk, because there is no shelter or housing available for the influx of people crossing the border. Extortion of goods on both sides of the border is rife. Expelled children—many of them separated from their parents— are enrolling in local border schools without uniforms or any school materials.
Food prices for staple foods such as rice, flour and oil have tripled because Angolan merchants that normally crossed the border to sell their produce are too afraid to do so, thus paralysing the economy of Congolese border communities. Finally, the economic situation is further compounded by the fact that the value of the Angolan Kwanza, the currency many of the expelled were using prior to being sent back to Congo, lost a third of its value since the beginning of the crisis in early-October.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been robbed of their right to a dignified existence,” said Blom. “This is not a crisis that is about to begin, it is a full-blown emergency. The international community must urgently increase the funding for humanitarian assistance.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is addressing some of the humanitarian challenges arising from Congolese expulsion with rapid response interventions in the affected areas. The agency will provide water, shelter and cash, and will work to improve the sanitation facilities in consortium with the French humanitarian organisation, Solidarités International, with funding from UNICEF and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations agency (ECHO). NRC has already assisted over 300,000 people in need across the Greater Kasai Region with cash, shelter, household items, education and food since May 2017.
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