“Movement restricted”: new policy paper on Congolese refugees in Angola
Published: 20 Mar 2018
Between March and July 2017, close to 35,000 Congolese refugees fled atrocities in the Kasai region and sought safety in Angola. While the Angolan government has offered many safety from militia and army attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its treatment of those who have fled is troubling.
IRRI’s policy paper – based on interviews in October 2017 with 45 Congolese refugees in Lunda Norte province in Angola, describes how unregistered refugees in Angola are living with serious restrictions on their freedom of movement, the ongoing threat of premature return and the risk of harassment, corruption and arbitrary detention.
The issue of return is particularly concerning, given that the Kasai region remains far from stable. Yet the Angolan government is increasingly putting pressure on refugees to return. UNHCR has documented forced returns of over 500 refugees, and IRRI has received similar testimony of such violations of international refugee law. Over the last few years, the Angolan government returned thousands of Congolese nationals, accompanied by serious human rights abuses.
Refugees are further put at risk by the fact that there currently exist no refugee status determination procedures in Angola, leaving them devoid of the recognition of their need for international protection. The Angolan government has restricted the freedom of movement and right to work of refugees, both in law and in practice, and unregistered refugees who try to get round the de facto encampment policy are at risk of human rights violations, corruption and forced return by the hands of security and immigration officials. Accountability for such abuses has been largely absent.
The lack of appropriate procedures, the pattern of abuses and the push for return reinforces the perspective among refugees that the Angolan authorities regard their stay in Angola as temporary, despite the fact the opening of a more permanent refugee camp has resulted in an improvement of the humanitarian situation. Many refugees resent the restrictions to their freedom and fear increasing tensions between the different refugee communities as a consequence of the ethnically-coloured violence in the Kasai.
Yet, such violence is ongoing, and the humanitarian situation in many of the villages of origin of refugees remains dire. Those that have been forced to return have been at risk of further human rights violations and have often been displaced a second time inside the DRC, creating more suffering. Ultimately, there needs to be a recognition that those who have fled conflict in Kasai are in need of protection until such time as there is a genuine resolution to the conflict in Kasai.
Read the full report here