In-depth: Internal Displacement
ANGOLA: A new yet uncertain beginning for the internally displaced
IDPs returning home from a camp in Kuito
LUANDA, 14 October 2002 (IRIN) - Victims of the tactics of two armed forces, Angola's four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) face a future as uncertain as their past.
Adelino Chipala and Bento Faria are both recent additions to Angola's tally of IDPs. On a bitingly cold night in the Angolan highlands, they sit by a wood fire next to the rows of white tents at the Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) compound in Chipindo, Huila province.
Both have found employment as guards with MSF. But the stories of how they came to be here could hardly be more different.
"All these people were UNITA people," says Chipala, 48, indicating the IDP settlement where some 13,000 people currently live.
"When the last war broke out UNITA was affected by [UN] sanctions - after the sanctions UNITA lost strength. Previously, the people were working in their fields and producing well. Then the government won a battle ... [and] forced all the people to come here, to government held territory.
"After they forced the people to come to Chipindo, all the food that the people had grown before the war, remained behind, their animals too - and the UNITA troops ate it. Here, there was nothing for the people, no food.
"That was in November ... until April people were here in Chipindo with no food, nothing. Every day, more than 20 or 30 people died. Now people are starting to eat something," Chipala said.
By contrast, Faria, 32, always considered himself a supporter of the government. Originally from Malanje in northern Angola, he took advantage of the brief interlude of peace in the early 1990s to carry out "candongo" (informal trade) in the east of the country.
Captured by UNITA in 1992, he spent 10 years on the move with the rebels.
"My mother disappeared in the war. My father disappeared in the war. My grandfather, my sister. I am alone here in Chipindo," Faria said.
Throughout 2001 and the first quarter of 2002, UN figures indicate that the number of new IDPs in Angola fluctuated between 20,000 and 50,000 each month, the number rising to over 60,000 in September 2001 owing to a massive movement of people following UNITA rebel attacks in the north of Bengo province.
The central province of Bié, the scene of bitter conflict, saw an average of over 10,000 people displaced each month throughout this period.
Yet the precise numbers of people displaced may never be known. In Chipindo, for example, the IDP settlement is home to about 13,000 people - yet more than 2,000 fresh graves hidden away in the bush are testimony to those who did not live to be included in the statistics. All of these people died between November 2001 and April 2002.
They had been forced out of their homes and into municipal centres where nothing was provided for them, until the humanitarian agencies arrived in June this year.
The UN figures for new IDPs dropped dramatically - from 24,000 in April 2002 to 8,000 in May - following the 4 April peace accord between the government and UNITA. The forced displacement tactics of the government and UNITA armies had come to an end, and improved access for humanitarian agencies meant that people did not have to travel as far as previously to get help.
People nevertheless continued to move. For some of the survivors of the war, many of whom had been living on the move for years, this was the first chance they had to make their way to a place where help was available.
Those figures also mask a huge movement of people which began after the signing of the peace accord. Between April and July more than 80,000 UNITA soldiers and over 300,000 of their relatives made their way to designated quartering areas as part of the demobilisation process.
In accordance with the peace plan, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) have absorbed 5,000 soldiers - responsibility for the remainder now passes to the government's newly established Commission for the Social and Productive Reintegration of the Demobilised and Displaced.
These people do not form part of the IDP statistics, but they are indistinguishable from IDPs in terms of their vulnerability and need for humanitarian assistance. Promised government aid has been slow in coming, and humanitarian staff are apprehensive that the former UNITA soldiers and their families could end up becoming another burden on over-stretched aid agencies.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Angola, Erick de Mul, said the 'fluid' situation was causing some difficulty.
"On the one hand you see the caseload of four million IDPs, and that caseload is gradually, slowly reducing," De Mul told IRIN.
"And then you see the people from the previously inaccessible areas coming in - the only thing we can do is apply the flexibility that is needed to react as quickly as we can. But we can be satisfied with the number of ears and eyes we have on the ground, and [we have] the means of communication to bring information very quickly to the centre, so that we can try to formulate a response."
As some people start to make their own way out of the IDP camps and back to their home areas, agencies acknowledge the importance of breaking dependency on handouts, and are seeking to provide seeds and tools so people can start farming once again. Angola's fertile soils, reliable rainfall, and low population density bode well for this approach. Yet human rights advocates say there is a danger in putting pressure on IDPs to go home without adequate preparation.
"Most people lost everything that they had and most people are in a situation where they have to start from the beginning," said Fernando Macedo of the Association for Justice, Peace and Democracy - an Angolan organisation which worked with Human Rights Watch on a report on the situation of Angolan IDPs.
"We think these people must be assisted in basic humanitarian needs, which means raising funds to give them the tools to cultivate the land. People must not be forced to return to places where they do not have the conditions to live decently," Macedo said.
Others warn that farming skills have been lost among communities where a whole generation has grown up as IDPs.
"In some families there is no agricultural tradition. The people are so used to getting food from the international and national organisations that it will take some time [for IDPs to resume farming], and some people may refuse to go back to their place of origin when they have received food for so many years," an aid worker in Kuito warned.