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Thousands of Angolans flee to Zambia

Briefing notes

Thousands of Angolans flee to Zambia

19 October 2001

Renewed fighting in eastern Angola at the approach of the rainy season has sent thousands of Angolans fleeing towns in Cuando Cubango province. The clashes between government and UNITA forces have prompted thousands of people to seek refuge in Zambia over the past few days. UNHCR is organising urgent assistance for groups of Angolan refugees who are making a way to Zambia's Western Province. There have been at least 3,500 new arrivals in the past five days - well above the average of 1,000 per month. The increase has raised fears of a sustained influx as fighting rages in and around Angolan towns on the other side of the border. Some of the towns are reported to have changed hands.

Zambian border authorities first alerted UNHCR's sub-office in Mongu, Western Province, last weekend, reporting groups of refugees crossing the border. UNHCR then sent trucks to pick up the refugees and transfer them to Nangweshi camp, in the far south-western corner of Zambia. A total of 1,240 were transferred over the past few days. During a subsequent field mission to the border areas on Monday, UNHCR protection staff found more than 2,100 new Angolan refugees in several villages in the Shangombo district.

In the village of Mambolomoka, 32 km north of Shangombo town, a group of about 1,000 people had arrived, many of them in deplorable condition. The UNHCR team estimated that 60 percent of them are children suffering severe malnutrition. Other groups of several hundred people were found in the border town of Lilondo as well as in areas south of Shangombo and in Shangombo itself.

UNHCR and WFP have dispatched food and jerry cans of water to Mambolomoka. Our partner, MSF Holland, went to Mambolomoka as well to provide medical help. A transit centre is being built in Shangombo town to house the refugees awaiting transportation to the Nangweshi camp. An ambulance was dispatched from Nangweshi to pick those who are seriously ill. On the first trip, a pregnant woman gave birth on her way to Nangweshi. In Nangweshi, UNHCR partner African Humanitarian Action is providing medical care.

UNHCR's Zambia representative, who travelled to the area on Wednesday, outlined the need to rapidly transfer people away from the border for security reasons. Five additional trucks have been hired in Mongu to make the 140-km trip, together with two CARE trucks already available. Once in Nangweshi, the new arrivals are being housed in a transit centre. Nangweshi had already reached its capacity of 15,000 refugees, so UNHCR has initiated discussions with Zambian authorities to obtain land for the construction of a new camp

The newly arrived refugees said they came from the Angolan towns of Kavaleka (pop. 6,000) and Cilenga (20,000) and were fleeing government offensives in the area. UNHCR believes more refugees are on the way, making the difficult, dangerous and sometimes circuitous journey to the Zambian border. Fighting in Angola has traditionally flared up in the last months of the year, when the warring parties try to consolidate positions before the onset of the rainy season. Last month, more than 15,000 arrivals were also recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo following fighting in Angola's northern Uige province.

Zambia this year has received an average of 1,000 Angolan refugees per month. The country is hosting over 200,000 Angolan refugees, some of them having been there for over 30 years. Half of them are hosted in four UNHCR-assisted camps and settlements along Zambia's western and northern borders. Angolans are the largest refugee population in Southern Africa, with 435,000 refugees in at least a half-dozen countries in the region.