Global perspective Human stories

Impending crisis in southwest DR of Congo, UN relief officials warn

Impending crisis in southwest DR of Congo, UN relief officials warn

United Nations officials warn that “an acute humanitarian crisis is in the making” in two southwestern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where tens of thousands of Congolese civilians are returning after being expelled from neighbouring Angola.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has just returned from an inter-agency mission to the Bandundu and Western Kasai provinces, which has poor transport links and many remote localities. It found there was an urgent need there for food supplies, clean water, better health care and transport assistance.

In a situation report released on Saturday, OCHA said aid agencies and officials from the DRC Government estimate between 80,000 and 100,000 Congolese either have been or will be returning to the two provinces. Since 2 April alone, more than 40,000 people have been come back.

Last December Angola’s Government began expelling the thousands of Congolese who had been living and working illegally as manual labourers in the country’s diamond mines. The returnees have to cross over the Tungila River separating the two nations, and OCHA said people are reported to have drowned in the attempt.

“The human rights and health situation is a major concern,” OCHA said in the situation report, citing the move of Angolan military agents to force returnees to submit to invasive bodily searches for hidden diamonds.

“According to reports, the searches are being conducted in a manner that is causing psychological and physical trauma and even death,” the OCHA report stated.

UN agencies – including the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have begun mobilizing to send relief supplies to the area to help the returnees.

OCHA said it was planning a second inter-agency mission to the affected area, this one focusing on Western Kasai province.