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Country analysis > Angola Last update: 2020-11-27  

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Profile of internal displacement

Profile summary

Background and causes of displacement

Angola bears the ignominy of having one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world, with some of the worst human development indicators, whilst at the same time producing vast mineral wealth that ends up on faraway foreign markets and consistently eludes ordinary Angolans.

In April 2002, the Angolan government put the total number of persons displaced throughout the 26 year civil war at more than 4 million - one third of the country's 12 million inhabitants. Of this number, more than 1.4 million IDPs were confirmed to receive assistance from humanitarian organizations. Needs assessments carried out in newly accessible areas as of April 2002, confirmed that 800,000 vulnerable people required life-saving and emergency assistance (UN OCHA, 24 June 2002).

This dire humanitarian situation is the direct result of protracted conflict between the government of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), who were bitter enemies even before the country's independence from Portugal in 1975. Some of the worst fighting broke out in 1992, following the electoral victory of the government ruling party, MPLA, and its subsequent rejection by UNITA. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and up to two million displaced. The 1994 Lusaka Peace Protocol failed to end the violence, and all-out war resumed by the end of 1998.

Both sides to the conflict have used civilian populations as pawns in their military strategies. By mid-2001, UNITA appeared to have moved away from guerilla tactics in favour of terrorist warfare, becoming increasingly involved in kidnappings and the deliberate targeting of civilians. One stark example was the UNITA attack,on 10 August 2001, on a civilian train in Cuanza Norte province resulting in the death of over 400 people. Witnesses reported that the train was derailed by an anti-tank mine, and that passengers attempting to escape the accident were killed by UNITA soldiers lying in wait (Action for Southern Africa 5 September 2001, 5 October 2001).

UNITA has in recent years forcibly displaced civilian populations in order to get human and material support, while government forces have in turn moved civilians in order to isolate UNITA. According to MSF in its March 2002 briefing to the UN Security Council, 'The widespread and systematic forced displacement occuring in Angola and the failure to assure proper conditions for IDPs is responsible for devastating the health and nutritional status of large civilian populations' (MSF, 5 March 2002).

The death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi at the hands of government troops in February 2002 gave new impetus to the peace process, resulting in a ceasefire agreement between the two sides in April. This was to pave the way for the demobilization of 50,000 UNITA troops, who would be absorbed into the Angolan army and police. President dos Santos, who had earlier declared he would be stepping down in the next elections, promised that free elections would be held - but without giving a date.

As reported by the BBC in April, some observers were optimistic that this peace agreement would hold where others had failed, due to the fact that it was achieved entirely by Angolans themselves without any foreign mediation. Indeed, the precise role of the UN in supporting the peace plan remained to be worked out (UN News Service, 1 April 2002). In July 2002, the UN Secretary-General offered detailed proposals for an expanded UN mandate in Angola (UN Security Council, 26 July 2002).

However, it soon became clear that "the people most affected by the war have yet to see a significant 'peace dividend'" (UN OCHA, 17 July 2002) and that the world's worst humanitarian crisis was unfolding.

Conditions of displacement

The traditional movement of displaced populations has been from rural areas to state-controlled provincial capitals. Once there however, the absence of sustained and effective government services has meant that resident populations - already impoverished by the effects of the war - have been forced to shoulder the burden caused by the massive levels of displacement. 'The overwhelming majority of displaced persons continue to be absorbed into host communities, placing additional strains of the coping capacities of already-poor families and intensifying competition for meagre resources, including land, employment and income-generating opportunities,' says the UN in the 2002 CAP.

During flight, communities and families have often been separated from each other. Movements of displaced people in BiР№ Province - one of the worst-hit areas in terms of internal displacement - have revealed that many women are left to flee on their own with their children since their husbands are fighting for government or UNITA forces (WFP 12 July 2001). The UN reports that more than 100,000 children are estimated to be separated from their birth families throughout the country. Many IDPs have been displaced numerous times as a result of both military strategies and wilful neglect.

Though IDPs have found some protection in provincial capitals, both OCHA and the UN Commission on Human Rights reported in the first half of 2001 that persons in all areas were vulnerable to attack, rape, kidnapping and forced conscription by UNITA and government forces. Women and children have naturally been the most vulnerable populations. Women have been subject to sexual harassment and forced into marriage and prostitution; children - of which UNICEF reports one million are internally displaced - have been forcibly recruited and victim of kidnappings and sexual assault. While the overall security situation improved following the cessation of hostilities in April 2002, there were continuing reports of IDPs in Angola facing security threats and human rights abuses (HRW, 3 July 2002).

The ceasefire also gave access to humanitarian organizations to areas which had been cut off for years. The scale of the unfolding humanitarian crisis soon became apparent. In April 2002, MSF warned of a severely malnourished "dying population" in newly accessible areas of the country. Mortality and malnutrition levels were well above emergency thresholds in areas accessed (MSF, 24 April 2002). Assessments carried out by inter-agency teams also revealed the widespread need for urgent basic health care assistance, in areas where the main causes of death included water-borne disease, malaria, diarroeha and measles (UN OCHA, 30 April 2002).

According to OCHA in April 2002, some 600,000 IDPs were living in temporary resettlement sites, with approximately 437,000 remaining in camps and sub-standard transit centres. Continuing influxes of IDPs and limited resources hampered the closure of the centres as planned, worsening conditions yet further (UN OCHA, 30 April 2002). According to a report by Refugees International, IDPs sent to these centres have a 20-30 percent chance of dying there (RI, 18 June 2002). In June 2002, humanitarian organizations estimated that up to 500,000 people could resettle or return before the end of the year (UN OCHA, 24 June 2002), although serious obstacles remained, not least the abundance of landmines and a lack of shelter in areas of origin (RI, 2 July 2002).

Humanitarian response and constraints

At the national level, the Angolan government was one of the first state authorities to adopt and use the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement - first to form the basis of Minimum Operational Standards (MINOPS) for Resettlement and Return of IDPs, developed in cooperation with UN agencies in the summer of 2000, and culminating in the adoption of these standards in a government Decree (1/01) of 5 January 2001 as the Norms on the Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons. The government has also cooperated with the UN in developing provincial protection plans based on the Guiding Principles. However, actual compliance with the Norms has been tenous, according to OCHA (which monitors implementation at provincial level), but this increased to nearly 70 percent by the end of 2001.

In general, the Angolan government has fallen far short of expectations in its level of assistance to displaced populations. In a rare oral briefing of the UN Security Council in March 2002, several NGOs - including MSF and Human Rights Watch - reiterated their criticisms of the government (as well as UNITA) for failing to fulfil its responsibilities to populations under its control (MSF, 5 March 2002; HRW, 5 March 2002; Oxfam, 6 March 2002).

The humanitarian operation in Angola is very large; in 2001 it comprised ten UN agencies, 100 international NGOs and more than 340 national NGOs, as well as numerous government ministries and departments. It is also one of the most expensive humanitarian operations in the world due to exorbitantly high transport costs, mostly by air. Delivery of humanitarian aid to war-affected populations has been hampered in recent years by widespread insecurity - including the deliberate targeting of aid organizations such as World Vision and WFP in 2001, as well as by delapidated airstrips and dangerous roads. As a result, 60% of humanitarian relief had to be transported by air (UN OCHA 22 May 2001). However, by the time the Angolan government and UNITA signed the ceasefire agreement in April 2002, WFP reported that due to stronger army escorts and increasing prospects for peace, about 60 percent of humanitarian aid was being delivered by road and 40 percent by air - quite a dramatic change in a short space of time. While the circulation of goods and people did greatly increase throughout the country after April 2002, there were however continuing logistical constraints, including the poor condition of roads and airstrips, broken bridges and landmines (UN OCHA, 30 April 2002).

Lack of resources has been one of the main factors constraining humanitarian operations in Angola, even more so since the opening up of the country after April 2002. Humanitarian organizations, many of them already working to capacity at the beginning of 2002, struggled to address the overwhelming needs of IDPs in newly accessible areas and were forced to identify the highest priorities until at least the end of the year.

The UN Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeals (CAPs) for Angola have been consistently under-funded. For example, only 30 percent of the amount requested in the 2002 CAP was funded by June 2002. The UN subsequently launched a "bridging request" for US$142 million for humanitarian operations in Angola (UN OCHA, 18 June 2002).

As reported by OCHA, the UN has linked the poor donor response in the Angolan context to the expectation by some donors that the government of Angola would allocate additional resources from oil revenues to social sectors (UN OCHA, 22 May 2001). To date, adequate government funding in this regard has never been forthcoming. Africa Confidential, in its 24 June 2002 edition, stated, "Though Angola needs technical assistance, the oil-rich country has no serious financing need."

Updated August 2002

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