The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern about the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The agency said the situation was sparked by the mass return of refugees from Angola over the last two weeks.
Congolese government officials estimate that some 200,000 nationals have arrived in Kasai Province alone.
Their arrivals follow an expulsion by the Angolan authorities. The Congolese were mostly working in the informal mining sector, in Angola's northeast, which borders DR Congo.
“UNHCR is appealing to the governments of Angola and the DRC to work together to ensure a safe and orderly population movement,” the UN agency said in a statement released Tuesday.
“Mass expulsions are contrary to obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and we ask both sides to respect the human rights of those affected.”
"Without such cooperation the returns could easily create a humanitarian crisis in the already fragile Kasai region," the UNHCR added.
The central DRC region has seen a major spike in violence since September 2017, leaving at least 400 dead in an uprising that erupted when government forces killed a tribal chief and militia leader, Kamwina Nsapu.
Nsapu had rebelled against President Joseph Kabila.
There have been reports of violent clashes in some areas of Angola as law enforcement agents enforce the exit order against migrants. The deadline for compliance expired on Monday.
Thousands of returnees have so far crossed to the Congolese side. More were seen walking towards the border or arriving by cars, buses or trucks on the Angola side, from where they walked, taking their belongings with them.
Looking for safety
The UNHCR statement further said it heard complaints of violence, including sexual assaults, bodily frisking and theft of belongings, at the hands of security forces on both sides of the border.
The Congolese were returning to a desperate situation, looking for safety and aid. With more arriving every day, thousands were reported to be stranded, with limited means to travel onwards to their places of origin.
The town of Bamako in Kasai Province, on the border with Angola, is over-crowded with people staying overnight outdoors, in host families, church compounds and on streets.
UNHCR also said its teams were working with other partners in the region to assess the humanitarian needs, trying to ensure those most at risk – including unaccompanied children – were taken care of.
Angola currently hosts some 68,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, primarily from DRC.
Congo’s government condemned what it called the violent expulsion by Angolan authorities of thousands of Congolese citizens during a crackdown on artisanal diamond mining.
Congolese migrants and officials have said dozens of people were killed during a crackdown this month, an accusation Angola strongly denies.
The comments from Kinshasa will further increase tensions between the government of Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and its erstwhile close ally. Two decades ago, Angola stepped in to rescue Kabila’s father, then president Laurent Kabila, from a Rwandan-backed rebel assault.
But Angola has become frustrated by Kabila’s handling of several crises, including instability caused by his failure to step aside when his mandate ended in 2016, and a conflict in Kasai province that sent thousands of DRC refugees over the border.