With a deepening social crisis in Angola, the living conditions of thousands of migrants are getting worse.
The African country has been facing the effects of a political crisis and a severe drought that is impacting the southern part of the country. Unemployment affects about one third of the people, and more than half of the population lives in extreme poverty. Inflation has caused the food prices to increase 36 percent over the last year.
“If the situation is bad for everybody, for the refugees and immigrants it is even worse,” affirmed Brazilian-born Scalabrinian Sister Neide Lamperti, who has been working with immigrants in Angola for 11 years.
Lamperti said that there are about 55,000 immigrants and refugees in Angola, most of them undocumented and facing several restrictions on the ability work and receive government assistance.
More than 42 percent of them come from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Some fled the province of Kasaï in 2016 and 2017 after a war broke out between a local militia and government forces, displacing over a million people, including more than 30,000 who went to Angola, particularly to the Lunda Norte province.
The Church played a central role in aiding those refugees during the peak of the war. Now that the conflict is over, about 9,600 Congolese remain in the area.
“About 6,000 of them have been settled in Lovua, and the others are living in urban areas and other provinces. A church is being built and a vicar was named to assist that community,” Lamperti said.
While those refugees received land to farm and are already selling their products, most of the Congolese living in Angola are enduring all kinds of hardship, Lamperti said.
“Without documents, immigrants and refugees are not able to go to a hospital, to obtain a school certificate, or to get a formal job,” she explained.
Most undocumented foreigners make a living by selling products on the street, but they are frequently subjected to police harassment.
“Officers often take their products from them, beat them up, and arrest them,” Lamperti said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated their situation, and the suffering is increasing.
Another immigrant community facing problems are Rwandans. Most of them live in Viana, in the Luanda metropolitan area. Since the war in Rwanda ended decades ago, their status as refugees is about to end.
Lamperti said that they have been told that they will not be welcomed back to Rwanda, so they decided to stay in Angola.
“But they are not getting Angolan documents, so they are kept in a limbo,” she said.
The refugees’ children who were born in Angola also suffer due to the lack of documents. Middle schools require identification documents that the immigrants’ children cannot provide, so they have to end their studies at an early age. Those who manage to go still fail to receive a diploma when they graduate, so they are not able to go to the university or to get a job.
The Church’s network for the protection of immigrants and refugees has been distributing food kits and giving job training to immigrants and refugees, including sewing and hairdressing.
Sister Neide Lamperti also works with immigrant issues with the bishops’ conference, and frequently educates policemen on how to handle situations involving immigrants and refugees.
“Unfortunately, many policemen think that only because they wear a uniform they can humiliate the poor, especially foreigners,” she said.
The Angolan crisis has also been hard on thousands of people in the south of the country, especially in the provinces of Huíla, Cunene, and Namibe. About 20,000 people, most of them members of traditional populations and ethnic minorities, tried to flee the drought that has impacted the region since 2012 and went to neighboring Namibia.
“The government was alerted about the situation since the beginning, but nothing was done to minimize the effects of the drought. Now, people are starving in the region,” Father Jacinto Wacussanga told Crux.
Wacussanga heads two non-governmental organizations that work with the local peasants to find solutions to those affected by the drought. He has been a lonely voice over the past decade in calling attention to the humanitarian catastrophe in the zone, but no concrete measures have been taken.
“It is a fertile land. It certainly could be irrigated and kept productive,” he said.
Wacussanga has been welcoming at least 10 people daily at his mission who are on the way to Namibia.
“They hope to get some help there, given that here there is none,” he said.
Most of them are members of peoples who traditionally lived as pastoralists. Such groups would frequently trade their products with farmers as way of enriching their diet, but with the drought the whole traditional economic system has been affected.
At the end of 2021, Angola decided to establish a program to repatriate such immigrants and established a land settlement for them in Cunene province.
“The government wanted to show it still has power, but it managed to draw only 1,800 people back to Angola,” Wacussanga said.
“Many people in the region were desperate and went to the settlement when they knew the government had created it. Now all that people are living there with no support and facing hunger,” he said.
Wacussanga organized donation campaigns, but the funds he managed to collect are largely insufficient. He hopes to receive government aid and establish a community kitchen at his mission.
“We have also been struggling for the official acknowledgement of all those ethnic minorities, and for a law that establishes that the access to food is a human right,” he added.