The neigbhourhood of Hoji Ya Henda, in Luanda, where many immigrants from West African countries run little stores. Screen grab from a video published on YouTube.

This weekend, authorities in Luanda launched a massive crackdown on immigrants, arresting hundreds, most of them from West African countries including Guinea, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Our Observers told us that many immigrants who weren’t arrested are now hiding in their homes, terrified at the idea of ending up in an Angolan prison.

According to the sparse information relayed by state media, 2,161 people were reportedly stopped by the police this weekend, and 884 of them, who reportedly did not have proper documentation, were arrested. According to Angola’s Interior Ministry, the majority of these people came from other African countries, but not exclusively: 300 Chinese citizens were detained Sunday, though all but 30 of them were quickly freed following negotiations with the Chinese embassy. All those arrested are currently being kept at a detention centre for illegal immigrants called Trinita.

“I had never seen such a big crackdown!”

Joao (not his real name) is Angolan and lives in Luanda.

On Saturday, I noticed that the police was carrying out a big crackdown in my neighbourhood. I saw a few young foreigners flee to neighbours’ houses and hide there. I would have liked to take photos, but I quickly noticed that there were plainclothes police present. I saw other policemen in uniform arresting foreigners and putting them into Jeeps. All the little stores in my neigbhourhood – which we called “cantinas” – were closed.

It’s easy for the police to find strangers here in Luanda, since all the “cantinas” are run by foreigners. In the past, when there have been rumours of crackdowns, we’ve seen the cantinas shut their doors for a couple of days. But I have never seen such a big crackdown!

“Having your papers in order isn’t enough to avoid going to prison”

Mohamed (not his real name) is Ivorian. He has worked as a taxi driver in Luanda for three years.

It all started Friday, when most of the West Africans went to the mosque for prayers. There’s one mosque in particular, near the airport, where West Africans like to meet. I was about to head out there when a friend who was already at the mosque called me. He told me not to come, because the police had surrounded the mosque and was starting to arrest people. Even the mosque’s imam was arrested.

I listened to his advice and stayed home. I haven’t left the house since. I’m in here with ten of my friends. We’re afraid to go outside and get picked up by the police. Many of our friends were arrested, at the mosque or in the streets. My cousin and his wife were arrested too. Yet they, like me, have their papers in order allowing them to live and work in Angola. But having papers isn’t enough to avoid going to prison here! [Editor’s note: Many other immigrants interviewed by FRANCE 24 complained about this problem.]

Here, you have to pay for everything. As a taxi driver, the police are always stopping me and asking me for money. Often, they’ll slap me around. They don’t like foreigners very much, even less so those of us who speak French.

We’re in contact with some of the people who have been arrested. Most of them had their mobile phones confiscated, but a few managed to hide theirs and keep them in prison. They told us the prison was badly overcrowded, that men and women were mixed together, and that many of them were forced to sit outside in the yard, under the hot sun. They only get fed once a day. And they say the prison guards hit some of them.

We called the Ivorian embassy, but they told us that for now, the ambassador hadn’t been allowed to visit the prisoners. They told us to stay indoors until the situation calms down.