The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has expressed displeasure with Angola for forcing more than 500 refugees to return to the conflict-dogged Democratic Republic of Congo.
The agency in a statement said that Angola’s government had forced 530 Congolese citizens seeking refuge between 25 and 27 February to return to their country.
480 of those forced to return were unregistered refugees staying at the Cacanda centre, managed by aid agencies in the frontier town of Dundo, the statement said.
“Continuing instability poses a grave risk to civilian safety, including for several hundred refugees recently returned there from Angola,” UNHCR said.
“UNHCR urges the Angolan authorities to refrain from further forcible returns of Congolese,” it added.
Angola’s Ministry for Social Assistance and Integration, which is tasked with handling refugee affairs, has not made any comment on the matter.
Violence in the DRC heightened in November 2016 following the failure by President Joseph Kabila to step down at the end of his term.
Nearly a million people have been forced to flee their homes since then, most of whom sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
About 35,000 refugees have since crossed Congo’s southern border into Angola, seeking safety in and around Dundo.
Angola has publicly offered to help by providing land to host the refugees.
However, the country has also long been nervous about security on its northern border and the risk of illegal immigrants crossing into Angola, many of whom seek to work in artisanal diamond mines along the province’s rivers.
Angola has greatly increased its military and police presence in the area since the violence in Kasai broke out and has put pressure on DRC to resolve the situation.