, Dundo, Angola, May 13 – Hundreds of people from Democratic Republic of Congo’s central Kasai region have been pouring into neighbouring Angola every day for more than a month to escape violence plaguing their homes.
Some 20,000 people who have fled are now in or around three holding camps in Dundo in Angola’s far north, living in increasingly dire conditions, according to the UN.
And the flow of refugees shows no sign of abating.
Patrice Ilunga managed to reach Mussungue with his children after four days of walking — exhausted, but alive.
“We fled under very tough conditions,” he said.
“The situation was so terrible that there were mothers who were sending their children alone in boats in the hope that the Angolans would save them.”
Since last August, the provinces at the heart of Congo have been engulfed by clashes following an uprising by those loyal to Kamwina Nsapu, a local chief who was killed by security forces.
The violence has already claimed hundreds of lives.
And according to the UN, the unrest has forced more than a million people out of their homes.
Last weekend, Angolan security forces evacuated 1,400 Congolese from the border zone — including several injured refugees — who were taken to Angolan camps, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said.
– ‘We have nothing’ –
To escape the atrocities, Michael Manguvu said he had no choice but to flee with his entire family in the hope of reaching Congo’s oil-rich southern neighbour.
“It was not easy to leave. It was the country where we had our family, but we had to leave everything behind, in the hands of the rebels,” he said.
And he’s now worried about what the future might hold, on top of the hardship he has already suffered.
“Angola is the closest safe place but we are here with nothing,” he said.
Refugees have been arriving in Mussungue exhausted by days of walking, hungry and often with injuries.
The first refugees to cross the border found shelter in dilapidated buildings, while others stay under plastic sheeting — and some sleep in the open air.
Children make up more than one third of the migrants in the camps and are particularly vulnerable to diarrhoea, fever and malaria.
“We only have two doctors here for more than 4,000 refugees,” said Francois Kamabo of the UN children’s fund (UNICEF).
“Children die because of a lack of medication or food, the hygiene conditions are very bad,” he said, adding that as many as 12 people are often forced to share a single kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of rice.
UNHCR, MSF (Doctors Without Borders) and others have scrambled teams from the Angolan capital Luanda to the area of the camps to help the new arrivals.
But with a distance of some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) between Luanda and the affected region, the mission has proved to be a logistical challenge.
“Here we only have two doctors from MSF Spain who were in Luanda for the yellow fever epidemic,” said MSF representative Jose Gazeho.
“We came here to help but we don’t have our kit. We’ve requested help but it’s slow coming,” he said.
– ‘We need support’ –
Earlier this month, two planes chartered by UNHCR delivered emergency items including blankets, mosquito nets and humanitarian rations to Luanda.
It seems unlikely that Angola will be able to successfully stem the flow — and even less capable of improving the situation.
“We have welcomed them to save their lives, but that’s all that we are able to do. We need the support of the international community,” said a local official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We don’t have any medicine, no food, no clothing, nothing at all,” said Claude Mavuya, 34, one of the refugees in the Mussungue camp.
“If the Angolan government can’t welcome us, then foreign aid must be mobilised.”