The United Nations refugee agency is shipping tents, mosquito nets and other essential relief items to Angola, where some 9,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have fled this month alone.
“Refugees reported fleeing attacks from militia groups, who are targeting police, military officials, and civilians who they believe are supporting or representing the Government,” Babar Baloch, spokesperson at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters at the UN's Geneva Office.
The civilians arrive mainly in Dundo, the capital of Angola's north-eastern Luanda Norte Province.
UNHCR is sending an additional emergency team to the town tomorrow, to support relief efforts.
There are concerns that the situation will worsen as Angola's wet season peaks in April, further complicating living conditions and the health of refugees, particularly women, children, the elderly and the disabled.
The refugees are fleeing from the Kasai region, a formerly peaceful area that turned violent in mid-2016, after a traditional leader, Kamuina Nsapu, was killed in fighting with security forces. Since then, the fighting has displaced more than one million civilians.
“The new arrivals are terrified and still fear for their lives and mentioned they do not have any immediate plans to return home,” Mr. Baloch said. “Some parents have reportedly sent their children across the border, worrying they would be forcibly recruited by the militias if they had stayed in the DRC.”
‘Children being killed or injured’
There is particular concern about the situation of children in Kasaï. An estimated 2,000 children were being used by the militias in the affected region and were yet to return to their homes, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
“These children were being killed or injured in the fighting, and were often arrested and imprisoned,” UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said in Geneva.
More than 4,000 children had been separated from their families and at least 300 seriously injured, according to the UN agency.
“Those children should be safe in their homes, schools and playgrounds, not forced to fight on the battlefield or wounded or killed in the violence,” Mr. Boulierac added.
The violence in the region had also had a devastating impact on education and health systems in the region. More than 350 schools had been destroyed in the provinces of Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental, and one out of three health centres no longer function.
The UN refugee agency echoed this concern, saying many of the children arriving in Angola are malnourished and sick “suffering from diarrhoea, fever and malaria.”