Kinshasa, 16 April 2004 - A Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) team has once again been dispatched to the southwestern provinces of Bandundu and Western Kasai in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to bring medical aid to thousands of Congolese diamond workers expelled in deplorable condition from Angola.
According to the MSF team in the region, at least 20,000 people have been expelled over the last week, with many having been subjected to forced separation of families, collective and public sexual violence against both men and women, arbitrary detentions, degrading vaginal and anal searches, gang rape, beatings, and looting of goods. 8,000 more people are expected over the next few days.
The miners were first rounded up and then transported to Luremo in Angola, 100 kilometers from the border, where they are subjected to a litany of abuse. The conditions they find having crossed into the border towns in the DRC are deplorable.
As Alain Decoux, MSF head of mission in the DRC, explains, "When the people arrive, they have lost everything including family members. Being returned to the DRC, often hundreds of kilometers from their places of origin, these people are stranded and impoverished, relying entirely on external assistance which has not been forthcoming."
The MSF emergency team is organizing a safe water supply to reduce the risk of epidemic outbreaks as well as the threat of dehydration. In addition to carrying out medical screenings, a medical dispensary and a facility to refer more complicated cases have also been put in place as has a food distribution. MSF is also undertaking psychological care for the arrivals.
MSF first drew attention to this situation in February 2004 after the preceding two months had seen the expulsion of 25,000 workers in an equally degrading fashion.
As Decoux explains, "After the wave of expulsions in February this year the Angolan government assured us that any further actions would be undertaken in full respect of the dignity of the workers. In the light of these recent events, it is their obligation to ensure that action is immediately taken."
As many parts of the DRC, the Bandundu and Western Kasaï provinces are extremely difficult to access and are areas with a genuine shortage of assistance for the expelled Congolese. As such, MSF is also calling on the Angolan and Congolese governments to live up to their responsibilities and other agencies to intervene as quickly as possible.