Following an exploratory mission by several aid actors, MSF has sent an emergency team to Tembo health zone, Bandundu province in the south west of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to provide assistance to Congolese 'garimpeiros' - illegal diamond miners - stranded there after expulsion from Angola. The medical team has donated medicines to the referral hospital in Tembo city and to three health posts at the cross border points of Kanhungula, Mangangi and Mawangu. An MSF doctor is giving curative consultations in the hospital as well.
Since December 2003, some 25,000 illegal diamond miners from the DRC have been expelled from Angola and more people are crossing the border every day. Most of them had to leave without any of their belongings and were confronted with violence and lootings on their way. Because of the extreme poverty in the region, the local population has absolutely no capacity to receive the returnees, who therefore have to cope in very dire circumstances with hardly any assistance.
Meanwhile the emergency team is preparing more logistical and medical support at the entry points where most of the returnees are crossing the border, to increase the quality and capacity of medical care. Through its presence on the spot, MSF wants to ensure reliable medical screening, data collection and medical care for the returnees in the area, before they move further inland - mainly to Kinshasa and Kikwit, and adapt its further interventions to their needs.
The returnees are often exhausted after their trip and faced with a lack of food, shelter and medicines. The few existing health structures are poorly equipped and so incapable of dealing with even the most common diseases, such as fever due to malaria. Several deaths have been reported so far; some people drowned when crossing the river at the border, others died due to the lack of medical care.
Most returnees are coming from the provinces of Malange and Lunda Norte in Angola where the government has launched a crackdown campaign to clean up the diamond mining industry. At least 60,000 people have been identified by the Angolan authorities to be evicted. So far there were two eviction phases, during which excesses were committed by Angolan soldiers and civilians. There were reports of beatings and death threats; incidents that have been acknowledged by the Angolan government. A third phase - to expel some 18,000 people - has been announced recently.
To make sure that the returnees have better access to care on the Congolese side of the border during this possible third eviction phase, MSF will remain present on the spot. The constant presence of a medical emergency team at the entry points on the border guarantees a better medical screening and quality of access to health care, and ensures a better picture of the main pathologies, nutritional situation, number of returnees, their condition etc.
MSF also calls upon other actors - such as UNICEF, OCHA, UNHCR and WFP - to intervene in order to provide the returnees with more shelter, protection, food and medical care.
Upon arrival, the returnees are exhausted after their trip and confronted with a lack of food, shelter and medicines. The few existing health structures are poorly equipped and are incapable of dealing with even the most common diseases, such as fever due to malaria.