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Angola: UNHCR emergency team heads for the north

Briefing notes

Angola: UNHCR emergency team heads for the north

23 May 2000

UNHCR is sending an emergency relief mission to Angola, after the agency's rapid assessment team found internally displaced people living in inhuman conditions in Angola's northern provinces.

Part of the initial group, comprising 12 senior UNHCR staff with solid emergency relief experience, will travel to Angola's capital Luanda this week. Several members of the team will immediately move on to the town of Uige, in Angola's north-western Uige province, where displaced people are reported to be living in abominable conditions. The other part of the team will remain in Luanda to provide back-up for the field operation which later in the year will be expanded with the re-opening of UNHCR field offices in Mbanza Congo in the Zaire province and Maquella do Zombo in the extreme north of the Uige province.

UNHCR had been present in the north of Angola until 1998 to help Angolans repatriate after the 1996 peace agreement between the government and UNITA raised some hope of stability. But the resumption of civil war in 1998 brought the repatriation to a halt and forced UNHCR to phase out its presence in the north.

During a trip to Angola's Uige, Zaire and Luanda provinces last April, UNHCR workers found internally displaced people and returnees living in appalling and life-threatening conditions. They said the situation was particularly alarming in the provinces of Uige and Zaire. They cited severe malnutrition among children, rising mortality rates of malaria, respiratory infections and tuberculosis, as well as hopeless overcrowding. The team said the people needed virtually everything from food and clean water to medicine and basic sanitary installations.

UNHCR's involvement will focus not only on relief aid, but also on trying to address protection issues such as forced relocation, forcible enlistment and other human rights abuses which lead to further displacement in Angola.

The already serious displacement crisis in Angola has worsened dramatically with the resumption of fighting between government forces and UNITA rebels. Currently, some to 2.6 million are internally displaced. 1.9 million of them urgently need humanitarian assistance.