Some 2.5 million to 3.5 million Angolans were uprooted at the end of 2001, including approximately 445,000 refugees and 2 million to 3 million internally displaced persons.
About 210,000 Angolan refugees were in Zambia, nearly 180,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, at least 30,000 in Namibia, some 15,000 in Congo-Brazzaville, and 4,000 in South Africa. More than 7,000 Angolans applied for asylum in Western countries during the year. Nearly 350,000 Angolans became newly uprooted during 2001, while approximately 15,000 refugees repatriated to Angola.
Angola hosted about 12,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa.
Angola's civil war has raged for decades amid failed peace accords and fragile power-sharing agreements. More than a half-million Angolans have died of war-related causes, according to most estimates.
A government military offensive reclaimed significant territory from rebel forces in 2000. International sanctions weakened the rebels, known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The country's rich natural resources, including oil and diamonds, helped sustain the conflict by supplying both sides with revenues for arms purchases.
By the end of 2000, the Angolan government claimed that it had pushed UNITA from the country's lucrative diamond mining areas and offered amnesty to all rebels willing to surrender. UNITA remained militarily active, however, and vast rural areas were subject to increased banditry, ambushes, and violence.
Warfare in 2001
The war continued in southern, central, and northern regions during 2001.
UNITA rebels launched more than 300 attacks on population centers, commercial convoys, and sites for internally displaced persons. Some areas previously regarded as safe suffered attacks. The Angolan military pressed its advantage in many regions, and government troops from neighboring Namibia launched cross-border attacks into southern Angola against UNITA. By year's end, the rebels controlled less than 5 percent of the country and reportedly had only 8,000 soldiers – one-fifth of their previous troop strength.
Combatants on both sides continued to commit human rights abuses. UNITA engaged in abductions, beatings, sexual abuse, and summary executions, while government troops killed civilians and burned villages during counterinsurgency operations. Angolan church leaders called for a cease-fire, without success.
Scope of Internal Displacement
Twenty-six years of on-and-off civil war and numerous waves of population displacement – often into areas inaccessible to humanitarian workers – have produced widely divergent estimates regarding the number of internally displaced Angolans.
Hundreds of thousands of uprooted persons received no humanitarian assistance and did not place their names on official registration rolls. Hundreds of thousands of people were believed to be displaced in areas long controlled by UNITA. Humanitarian officials were unsure whether tens of thousands of Angolans displaced during the 1970s and 1980s should still be considered uprooted after two decades of settled life at new locations.
Adding to the confusion, thousands of Angolan refugees and displaced persons returned to their homes during peaceful lulls in the 1990s, only to flee a second or third time when warfare resumed.
Government authorities and aid workers have officially registered about 1.3 million displaced persons living in camps, transit centers, and urban areas in government-controlled territory. UN relief officials estimated that an additional half-million to 1 million uprooted Angolans remained unregistered and unassisted in government-held areas. Up to 1 million people were still displaced in UNITA zones, analysts estimated.
As a result, some sources claimed that up to 4 million Angolans were internally displaced at the end of 2001. The U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated that 2 million to 3 million people were displaced.
Newly Uprooted Angolans
Approximately 350,000 Angolans fled their homes during 2001 to escape UNITA attacks and the government's counterinsurgency tactics. More than 40,000 new refugees fled to Zambia, Congo-Kinshasa, and Namibia, while 300,000 or more persons fled to different areas of Angola for durations ranging from a few weeks to many months.
Much new displacement occurred in eastern Angola's Moxico Province, where a government military offensive targeted villages believed to be sympathetic to UNITA. Government forces deliberately emptied entire villages in Moxico Province, forcing residents to move to new locations that were often dangerous and lacked shelter and water.
UNITA troops attacked central Angola's Bie Province early in the year, forcing an estimated 50,000 persons to flee. A rebel attack on the town of Caxito, about 40 miles (60 km) north of Luanda, the capital, killed about 150 people and pushed 50,000 or more from their homes in May. Rebel raids in May also caused nearly 5,000 persons to flee in Kwanza Norte Province, in northwest Angola.
UNITA struck 12 of the country's 18 provinces in September, leaving 60,000 persons newly displaced, according to aid officials. Smaller isolated attacks and population flight occurred throughout the year.
The Angolan government officially adopted "Norms for the Resettlement of Displaced Persons," statutory standards for improved living conditions among the country's massive displaced population, in early 2001. The government based its new standards on the "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement" issued in the late 1990s by the UN secretary general's special representative on internally displaced persons.
A major government goal was to transfer up to a half-million uprooted people into resettlement sites where they could farm and benefit from reliable services without living in overcrowded, makeshift camps. About 300,000 displaced people had already moved into more than 100 resettlement locations prior to 2001, but conditions at the sites were often poor.
About 100,000 displaced persons officially transferred to about 20 designated resettlement locations during 2001. Only half of the new settlements, however, complied with the government's new standards for medical care, education, farmland, and drinking water, according to UN relief officials. Despite its flaws, the resettlement system enabled authorities to close more than 30 overcrowded transit centers during 2000-2001.
Most displaced Angolans continued to live on their own or in camps with assistance programs. Many local authorities relegated displaced populations to areas most vulnerable to rebel attack on the outskirts of towns. Some 30 percent of the displaced population lacked access to medical services, according to an internal UN report. Malaria, anemia, and respiratory illnesses were major causes of death. Many displacement sites lacked clean drinking water.
Although the UN World Food Program (WFP) distributed monthly food aid to 1 million persons and government officials reportedly distributed about 615,000 acres (250,000 hectares) of farmland to uprooted populations during the year, malnutrition rates of up to 45 percent occurred at some locations. Therapeutic feeding centers for severely malnourished children in the central Angolan city of Kuito suffered nearly 25 percent mortality rates for part of the year. Displaced persons emerging from UNITA areas often were malnourished.
The more than 120 international and indigenous relief organizations that operated in Angola faced immense challenges. Soldiers and corrupt government officials routinely diverted a percentage of aid supplies or stole relief handouts from displaced persons leaving distribution centers.
Poor roads and pervasive security concerns forced relief groups to transport 60 percent of all aid items by air despite aviation fuel shortages and often badly maintained rural airstrips. Combatants fired at three WFP relief planes during the year, forcing a temporary suspension of relief flights nationwide. UNITA rebels killed and abducted some local aid workers.
"Overall humanitarian conditions deteriorated," UN relief agencies reported late in the year. Child mortality rates climbed to nearly 40 percent, according to the UN Population Fund. Angola's maternal mortality rates were reportedly ten times higher than in neighboring Namibia.
International donor nations provided less than half of the $233 million that UN relief agencies requested in 2001 to assist Angolans.
Repatriation to Angola
Nearly 15,000 Angolan refugees repatriated during 2001 despite the country's continued warfare. Most returned to northern areas of Angola, primarily to the provinces of Cabinda, Uige, and Zaire. About two-thirds of the returnees had lived in Congo-Kinshasa (also known as the Democratic Republic of Congo); about one-third had resided in Congo-Brazzaville.
Most returnees received assistance from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other aid organizations, including transport and cash grants. Government authorities in Cabinda Province provided land to returning refugees to construct new houses. Many returnees also received a six-month food supply, as well as materials to build or repair their homes.
Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa
About 12,000 Congolese refugees from the Katanga Province of Congo-Kinshasa remained in Angola at year's end. Most have lived in Angola 10 to 20 years.
Angola's war pushed many Congolese refugees toward the relative safety of Luanda in recent years. About 6,000 lived in or near Viana camp, on the periphery of the capital, where they were dependent on food aid. The camp offered health care, handicrafts training, and a primary school for 500 refugee students, but no secondary school.
Smaller numbers of Congolese refugees lived on their own in Luanda and in five provinces throughout the country. Authorities barred most refugee children in Luanda from attending local schools because they lacked a birth certificate. UNHCR opened a refugee community center in the capital in late 2000.
Several thousand Congolese refugees living elsewhere in Angola struggled to meet their own needs as violence spread to their locations. Rebel attacks in May destroyed integration projects supporting 500 Congolese refugees in Bengo Province, in western Angola.