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Violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is causing severe internal displacement and an alarming influx of refugees into Angola.

The facts and figures: 

  • The conflict in Kasai has displaced 1.3 million people overall, most of whom are internally displaced within the DRC, and others who have sought refuge in Angola.
  • Since early April, more than 30,000 people have crossed the border from the DRC to Angola, with the UNHCR predicting that number to rise to 50,000 before the end of the year. 
  • According to UNHCR, 300-500 Congolese refugees arrive in Angola every day
  • Seventy-five percent of the refugees arriving in Angola are women and children. All have been exposed to horrific violence, including rape torture, and the burning of their villages.
  • Children are disproportionately affected by the conflict. Some 2,000 children have been recruited and used as combatants since August 2016. Many child refugees arrive in Angola with terrible injuries. 

The conflict: 

The conflict in Kasai region of DRC is about local power. In 2015, the central government divided the region into five provinces, undermining existing authorities. From April 2016, the increase in security forces sent to assert control in the area led to further tensions. Since that time between 500 and 1,000 people have been killed in the region and numerous villages have been destroyed, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The violence also reflects wider political issues. Current leadership in the DRC continues todelay democratic elections. This is creating political unrest that has aggrevated the level of violence and disorder in many parts of the country, including Kasai.

Challenges to Angola:

Though the Angolan government has opened its borders and received many refugees, it has very limited capacity to assist them. 

The refugees arrive sick, injured, exhausted, and traumatized to the extremely poor and over-crowded settlements. The reception centers in some areas have inadequate facilities for habitation. In one village, Mussungue, refugees live in makeshift shelter within an empty warehouse complex. In another, Cacanda, the refugees are camping in an old market. In all of these places, there is very little water, inadequate food, and no sanitary facilities. This exposes the refugees, already weakened by their ordeal, to malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria and other communicable diseases. Three children have reportedly already died of malnutrition.

Humanitarian Response:

Since April, when they were alerted to the new influx of people from the DRC, UNHCR and Angola’s Central and Provincial Ministry of Welfare and Social Reintegration (MINARS) have taken urgent action to respond. Together with other humanitarian and development partners, including Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), they are struggling to provide shelter, food and protection to children and victims of sexually and gender based violence (SGBV). They announced that an additional $65 million is needed to meet the needs of the growing number refugees arriving to Angola every day, So far, only 11 percent has been received. Even though efforts are underway to ensure the safety of the affected population, it will be impossible to sustain life-saving assistance without more funding.

JRS Response:

JRS has been working in Angola since 2006, and we are now re-establishing our presence in Lunda Norte to respond to the new emergency. 

Working in close partnership with UNHCR, we provide legal assistance including registration for newly arrived refugees and action to prevent unlawful arrests and deportations. Toward this end, we are also organizing workshops with protection network groups, regional authorities, the local population, and the refugee community. 

JRS will also organize workshops on SGBV and HIV/AIDS to increase awareness and the visibility of the issue and to mitigate violence against women and other vulnerable individuals. We also provide counseling and psycho-social support to victims of violence and trauma. 

Finally, JRS is working to help the refugee community to organize an asylum-seeker leadership group, that will represent their constituencies to ensure effective communication and participation s in meeting their immediate needs and achieving solutions to their situation.

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