Thousands of Congolese diamond miners living in Angola were expelled from the country this past week. On October 26th, the United Nations (UN) reported that approximately 330,000 people have crossed back into the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.) following the Angolan government’s expulsion of irregular migrants. The migrants are reported to have crossed into the Kaisai Central, Kasai, and Kwango provinces. Excessive force has been used to deport migrants. The UN reported that the mass expulsion has led to six verified deaths, 100 injuries, and many unverified deaths. Reuters reported that ethnic violence and looting in Kapende, a major mining town, has left every house empty. Reuters suggested that these events were heightening the tension between already resentful communities in Lucapa, a town on Angola’s northern frontier.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, criticized the Angolan government’s expulsion: “International law and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights forbid the mass expulsion of non-nationals without individual assessment or other due process guarantees… In expelling such a massive number of people in such a short time, Angola has placed tens of thousands of families at severe risk.” These concerns are shared by the UNHCR, which expressed concern for the humanitarian situation in Kasai earlier in October. The UNHCR was concerned that some of the deportees may have included refugees who were caught up in the mass movement and forced back into the D.R.C. They have appealed to both the D.R.C. and Angola’s governments to cooperate in ensuring that movement is conducted safely and orderly.
Despite Angola’s diamond industry having major economic potential, it has historically been rejected by large mining companies due to corruption and poor transparency. Its reform, called Operation Transparency, aims to increase the revenue from diamonds, which is Angola’s second largest export, in order to compete with the diamond industries in Botswana and South Africa. Prior to the reform, Angola’s loose regulations surrounding mining provided the environment from which a large illegal artisanal diamond industry emerged. It was in the informal sector that many Congolese migrants found work. While industry reform in Angola is necessary, the execution of Operation Transparency has put the lives of thousands of Congolese miners at risk.
Angola needs to re-evaluate Operation Transparency and consider how they can reform the diamond industry without creating unnecessary instability. A comprehensive reform should involve a consultation with stakeholders, including those employed in the illegal mining industry, and its neighbouring African countries. In the meantime, the international community has a role to play in pressuring the Angolan government to take accountability for the instability that the forced mass migration has caused.