Namibia or Starvation... Returning Migrants Speak of Angola Crisis

Angolan migrants, who spent almost a year in Namibia and were repatriated last February, say they are back in the country and not planning on returning to Angola.

They claim the crisis in their country is deep, and they do not see relief coming anytime soon.

A subsistence farming couple from Okahama in Angola, spoke openly about their journey to Namibia, and why they don't intend to return to their country.

They were found roaming around Oshakati with their luggage, looking for domestic work. They have no shelter and sleep where they find work.

Dressed in traditional attires that only cover the essentials, they apply lotion mixed with ochre to keep them warm.

"Back at home, people are starving to death. But in Namibia, we get to eat at least once a day," said Nghilifavali Dupru.

Dupru (40) and his wife Hileni (age unknown) were among the group that was repatriated to Angola and later made a U-turn.

Since they were stricken by severe drought and their crops destroyed, they used to survive on wild berries only until they decided to move to Namibia, leaving behind their 15-year-old daughter, who is being taken care of by Dupru's aunt.

Asked why they have travelled back to Namibia, Dupru said, "it is more than just what you see or hear. It is deeper than that. We walked for about a week to reach Oshakati. What we found in Namibia is not what we expected, but it is better than what we left in Angola."

He said Namibians call them "migrants", but the word is unsatisfactory shorthand as it doesn't come close to describing the desperation of the escapee, the fear of the unknown, crossing the jungles on foot, to finally make it to the borders, only to find "Namibia doesn't want them".

"We have not just left our families, houses and children because we want to. The reality of life in Angola is unbearable. What we left in Angola is a crisis; hunger and economic crisis," said a teary Dupru.

The quadragenarian and his wife can count themselves as some of the lucky ones as many of their friends and family members have died of hunger.

"It was survival of the fittest," he stated.

Those hunger deaths included their two-year-old son, Hileni's mother, and Dupru's older sister.

Although Dupru and Hileni have found refuge in Namibia and don't plan on returning to their families, they said they are still living on the edge here.

The consul-general of Angola in Oshakati, Andre Ventura, and his assistant were not available for comment on the situation in Angola.

"The situation in Namibia is changing because even casual work is hard to find nowadays. If one gets a job, they are only paid enough to buy toiletries, and sometimes we don't get paid at all," Dupru lamented.

Since they moved to Namibia, they have been doing odd jobs, including cattle herding, ploughing and selling beads. But they often have to move on when their employers cannot or would not pay them anymore.

Years of severe drought and poverty have eroded the livelihoods of thousands of Angolans, which consequently forced them to flee their country in search of food and better times in Namibia.

In March last year, over 4 000 Angolans flocked to Namibia through ungazetted entry points in the Ohangwena region. They found refuge at Etunda village in the Omusati region, while some travelled as far as Windhoek and Gobabis.

After 11 months, when the drought was reported to have subsided, authorities from both countries decided to repatriate them to Angola. However, months later, there's a renewed influx.

In an interview with New Era, Omusati regional governor Erginus Endjala noted that a large number of Angolans have returned to Namibia, and the number keeps increasing daily.

"We are not sure how many have returned because they come into the country through ungazetted entry points, and it is difficult to keep track of them as they are no longer under our care," he said, adding that the number is quite alarming and people are scattered all over the northern regions.

New Era has also observed that many migrants settled in villages, where they are employed as domestic workers.

They walk in groups, looking for work, while others have resorted to selling sweets and other small items in the streets.

Hunger crisis

According to the Red Cross, Angola is facing the worst recorded drought in 40 years, with southern provinces Huila, Cunene and Namibe experiencing the fifth consecutive year of drought conditions.

A food insecurity analysis conducted in southern Angola found that between October 2021 and March 2022, around 1.58 million people experienced high levels of acute food insecurity.

"The affected population faces severe constraints in accessing food due to consecutive droughts, poor harvests and depleted reserves, loss of livelihoods and livestock as well as rising food prices. Furthermore, the lack of access to safe water and sanitation in most rural communities in the south is prolonging the cycle of malnutrition."

In addition, the economic crisis that has hit Angola since 2014 and the subsequent increase in food prices, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the very low crop yield, have severely impacted the most vulnerable and exposed populations, eroding livelihoods, agricultural production and coping reserves.

An estimated 1.2 million people are facing water scarcity and will have their water sanitation and hygiene conditions compromised. Many water points have dried up, and others are not working. In some villages, over 60% of the population consumes water from unsafe sources, and over 90% do not have access to latrines, according to the report.

The Red Cross said livestock production has also been affected by the drought. The lack of fodder and rangelands as well as diseases such as the foot and mouth outbreak in 2020 have led to widespread animal deaths over the past three years, with 75% of households reporting having partially lost their livestock.

With Covid-19 disruptions depriving many of jobs and income, increasing numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers are going hungry.

Not ideal

Last year, home affairs minister Albert Kawana told parliamentarians that there is no international legal obligation for Namibians toward the migrants.

"The situation is not ideal, either for regional government, traditional authorities or local communities. But we are working to see how to address it. This is putting extra pressure on mostly the health system and other public facilities," he had said.

Contacted for further comment on the new wave of migrants, home affairs did not comment at the time of going to print.

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