July 25, 2000

Displacement and Rural Insecurity Increasing

New York, 26 July 2000 — The international medical relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today expressed deep concern over the security and health of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Angola and called on the Angolan government to uphold its responsibility to protect the population. MSF also requested that the United Nations and parties to the conflict increase efforts to provide humanitarian access to civilians in UNITA-held areas of the country as well as in government-controlled areas. MSF raises these concerns as the UN Security Council prepares to discuss the current situation in Angola at an open debate on Thursday, July 27, 2000.

There are currently 2.5 million people displaced inside Angola. Between April and July of this year alone, more than 103,000 additional persons were displaced, according to the UN. Most of the displaced are seeking refuge in town centers due to increased insecurity in rural areas. In June, approximately 2,000 newly displaced persons arrived in the eastern town of Luena, where MSF runs nutritional programs and supports the provincial hospital. This represents a 10-fold increase in the numbers of IDPs who had been arriving in recent months.

Incidents of mine accidents and other war-related wounds indicate that civilian populations outside of city centers continue to be affected by the ongoing conflict. In Kuito's hospital, MSF's surgical program conducted over 23 mine-related amputations in the first three months of 2000. This number reflects an increase in such injuries. In all of 1999, the total figure of amputations at the same hospital was 35; there were only 13 in 1998.

Despite such indications of rising insecurity outside of town centers, the Angolan authorities, backed by members of the international community and the UN, have undertaken a plan to return IDPs to their home villages or to other locations. MSF believes that any relocation must ensure that basic minimum standards are in place prior to the movement of the population. In particular, any return of displaced persons must be voluntary.

Additionally, in some locations, the World Food Program (WFP) has made drastic cuts in the numbers of beneficiaries receiving food distributions. MSF is concerned that if WFP general food distributions are dramatically reduced, IDPs may have no choice but to venture out of the town centers in search of food, jeopardizing their safety. In Luena, for example, the number of beneficiaries previously receiving food distributions dropped from 67,000 persons to 17,000 persons. While the general nutritional situation has somewhat stabilized due to the harvest, MSF is worried about the consequences of such a reduction.

"People should not have to decide on whether to relocate based on an empty stomach," says Felicitas Ibanez-Llado, MSF Head of Mission in Angola. "People are fleeing rural areas to seek safety in the town centers and should not be forced to move back to an insecure area because they are not receiving enough food."

MSF also raised concerns over the lack of humanitarian access to populations in regions of the country not held by the government. "Right now we have no idea what the humanitarian situation is in vast areas of the country that are not under government control although we have received reports that there are large numbers of people in need of assistance and protection," says Erwin van der Borght, MSF program officer for Angola. "The UN and parties to the conflict must step up efforts to facilitate access to displaced persons in UNITA-held areas."

MSF has worked in Angola since 1983 and is currently running surgical, nutritional, and primary care programs in 8 provinces, as well as a sleeping sickness (African trypanosomaisis) program in Kwanze Norte province.