Women and children have been raped and subjected to other abuses during a mass expulsion of migrant workers from Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a doctor, officials and the United Nations say.
Angola has deported thousands of workers in recent months, according to UN figures, echoing previous purges over the past 12 years, during which abuses also occurred, according to human rights groups and the UN.
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The size of the latest expulsion is not yet known, but 12,000 workers have passed through one border crossing near the DRC town of Kamako in the past six months, according to previously unreported figures from the UN’s migration agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Last month, UN staff visited the area and wrote an internal preliminary report on the situation, according to the Reuters news agency.
“Girls and women are arrested wherever they are, without the necessary needs, detained and then separated from their children and husbands, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, sometimes raped,” the report said.
The report, which is yet to be published, did not explicitly identify the perpetrators. A doctor working in the area blamed civilians in the DRC and Angolan security forces.
A spokesperson for Angola’s migration authority, Simão Milagres, said there had been an increase in expulsions in the past few weeks but denied that rapes and other abuses had occurred.
“That’s not true,” he said. “I can guarantee that there isn’t an institutional attitude promoting violence against migrants.”
Rise in cases
The UN report did not say how many cases of abuse there were. But Victor Mikobi, a doctor who specialises in treating victims of sexual violence at a health centre in Kamako, said local clinics had recorded 122 cases of rape this year, unprecedented levels for the town, he said.
“These are women or girls expelled from Angola, some of them under 10 years old, without any means of subsistence and very vulnerable to this type of violence,” he said. Instances of gang rape have caused medical complications, he said.
Based on accounts from patients treated at his health centre, he estimated that at least 14 rapes were committed by Angolan security forces. Dozens of others were committed by civilians in the DRC, he said.
A DRC immigration official who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity said that in meetings, officials had talked about dozens of rapes on both sides of the border.
Dieudonne Pieme Tutokot, governor of the Kasai region in southern DRC, said he was aware of rapes and had opened an investigation.
Search for diamonds
Angola’s diamond-rich Lunda Norde region has long attracted thousands of migrant workers from the DRC’s isolated, poor south. Many come and work illegally, according to the UN report. Only 20 percent of the deported workers had permits.
Kamako has become an “open-air migrant camp”, the head of the IOM’s mission in the DRC, Fabien Sambussy, told journalists.
Abbé Trudon Keshilemba, president of a group of civil society organisations in Kamako, said: “The Congolese end up occupying whole villages in Angola, and the Angolans feel that they will disappear.”
Milagres said Angola carried out its crackdown on undocumented workers as it sought to promote legal migration through an online visa application process.
Mass deportations from Angola to the DRC happen every few years. The largest, in 2018, led to the expulsion of 330,000 workers. Over the course of two months in 2010, the UN estimated that more than 650 people had suffered sexual violence during expulsions from Angola.
“We are witnessing this without being able to do anything due to a lack of resources,” the DRC immigration officer said.