August 3, 2009 / 1:30 PM / 9 years ago

Angola says Congo immigrants threaten diamond sector

LUANDA (Reuters) - The head of Angola’s border police accused the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday of allowing an unchecked flood of illegal immigrants into Angola, threatening its recovering diamond sector.

Rough diamonds are displayed at the Botswana Diamond Valuing Company in Gaborone August 26, 2004. REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya

Authorities have rounded up and deported 10,000 illegal immigrants from the DRC in the last month alone, Jorge Antunes told Reuters, as Angola bids to protect an industry vying to bounce back from a 75 percent fall in prices last year.

Most were found looking for diamonds in the northern crocodile-infested rivers which provide almost one-fourth of Angola’s diamond revenue. They then sell the diamonds on the black market or smuggle them out of the country, undermining the main state operation.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Antunes. “They (the deportees) think this is the new El Dorado. Authorities in the Congo have done absolutely nothing to stop its citizens from coming to Angola.”

Plagued by a 1998-2003 war and resulting humanitarian catastrophe that killed an estimated 5.4 million in a decade, thousands of Congolese have fled to oil- and diamond-rich Angola in search of a better life.

Although the two countries are strong regional allies, Congo has accused Angolan troops of trespassing on its territory over their 2,000 km (1,250 mile) border. Angola claims it did so to stop the growing wave of illegal immigrants.

Rights groups have reported that immigrants were detained for months in Angola and then made to walk up to 100 km (60 miles) to the Congo border. The United Nations said recently there had been cases of women being raped before being released.

Antunes said he was not aware of any human rights violations committed by Angolan police and appealed for an expansion of his 7,000 strong force and cooperation between the two governments to halt the flood of immigrants.

Congo’s population of 69 million is four times that of Angola, which rivals Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer and is one of the world’s top five diamond exporters.

“The Congo has a very high population density. The country’s government is under huge pressure to help the population and one way to solve this is to tell its people to go it alone,” said Antunes.

“They cross the border into our country and we are the ones left to suffer the consequences.”

Most Congolese immigrants, including women and children, come to Angola to search for diamonds.

Those who are lucky enough to make it to Angola’s sprawling capital Luanda can be spotted selling clothes, food and even cars on the streets, where one of the sea-side city’s most famous open-air markets is called: “The Congolese.”

“I am only telling you what I see. What I want is for both countries to work together to solve this problem,” Antunes said, adding that Angola also faces a mass flow of illegal immigrants from neighbouring Namibia and Zambia.

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