A global rights watchdog Thursday called on Angola to halt mass deportations after more than 400,000 migrants, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, fled or were expelled from Angola in just weeks.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says migrants have been targeted in a massive operation against diamond smuggling.
Police said the operation, which was launched late in September, has seen 430,302 foreigners leave the country, most of them Congolese. Without providing evidence, the government of President Joao Lourenco has claimed that smuggling was organized and controlled by undocumented migrants.
"Angola should stop forcing people to leave the country until it can provide individual assessment and due process guarantees to distinguish irregular migrants from refugees and registered migrant workers," Dewa Mavhinga, the HRW southern Africa director, said in a statement.
In a report, HRW said the government "should immediately suspend the deportation of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into alleged abuses by state security forces."
The migrants have accused Angolan security forces of physical and sexual abuse that feed a climate of fear and intimidation.
HRW pointed to UN reports that Angolan security forces and allied youth militias from the ethnic Tshokwe group, shot dead at least six Congolese last month during an operation in Lunda North province bordering Congo.
The government has vehemently denied that its security forces committed abuses during "Operation Transparency." Angolan police spokesman Antonio Bernardo was adamant that the "operation will continue for as long it takes to restore peace and tranquility."
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Bernardo denied accusations that refugees were among those expelled. "Most people who left, went voluntarily because the (illegal) diamond market has been shut," he said. He added that more than 410,000 people from DR Congo had left the country voluntarily, while the remaining 14,000 were from Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal.
Angola is the world's fifth-largest diamond producing country.
The rights group also expressed fears that the sudden return of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants risked further destabilizing southern Congo with national elections set to take place on Dec. 23.
Angola and DR Congo share a 2,500-kilometer land border, the longest in Africa.