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Catholic Charity Reports People’s Agonizing Search for Refuge in Mozambican Crisis

Map showing the troubled region of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique. Credit: Public Domain

Displaced people in the ongoing violence in Cabo Delgado, the Northernmost Province of Mozambique, are spending months away from home in their agonizing attempt to flee from the war-torn region, Catholic peace and charity organization Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) has reported.

According to the organization that is monitoring the evolution of violence in a number of other African countries, dozens have been stuck at Paquitequete, a beach in city of Pemba after sailing south in search of refuge.

The displaced people, the leadership of DHPI reports, are fleeing protracted attacks in the villages of the districts of Palma and Nangade in Cabo Delgado.

“Displaced people continue to arrive by boat in Pemba. In recent weeks, the beach of Paquitequete, in Pemba City, continued to receive displaced people,” Johan Viljoen, the Director of DHPI says in a report shared with ACI Africa.

He adds in the Monday, June 7 report, “Daily at least 100 people land on the beach of Paquitequete, after about five days of risky travel by sea and in sailing boats.”

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According to the official of DHPI, a peace initiative by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), there are cases where the sea voyage lasts 10 days.  

“Without assistance and without a clear destination, some displaced remain on the beach in Paquitequete for a week, while trying to locate family members,” Mr. Viljoen says, adding that those who cannot locate family members and are not forwarded to the transit or resettlement centers end up staying longer at the beach.

At the beach, the displaced people seeking refuge cope “without the minimum conditions for survival,” he says in the DHPI report. 

Mr. Viljoen further says that there are at least 30 people who have been on Paquitequete beach for more than three months.

Meanwhile, Tanzanian authorities continue to refuse entry to civilian refugees fleeing the fighting in Cabo Delgado region, according to the June 7 report by DHPI leadership.

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Last month, the organization reported that the displaced people were unable to understand why they were being turned away by Tanzanian authorities while there was evidence that militants responsible for attacks in the north were freely crossing over to the southern parts of the East African country.

“There is mounting speculation among civilians in Cabo Delgado that either Tanzania is failing to act or the country’s authorities are supporting the ongoing insurgency in her neighbor, Mozambique,” Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa in an interview last month.

This was after images appeared of a group of militants who were crossing into the Namoto forest in the southern part of Tanzania.

The official of the peace and charity organization, which is providing humanitarian support to displaced refugees in the Catholic Archdiocese of Nampula and the Diocese of Pemba added, “People in Cabo Delgado are wondering why they are not allowed to enter Tanzania yet the insurgents have been spotted entering the country with impunity. Apparently, Tanzanian authorities are allowing the militants to pass without any obstacles.”

In the June 7 message, Mr. Viljoen makes reference to a report by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that indeed, Tanzania refused asylum to some 3,800 Mozambicans fleeing armed attacks in Palma, Cabo Delgado, during the month of May.

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The June 4 report by UNHCR has it that “in May, nearly 3,800 Mozambicans were forcibly returned from Tanzania through the border post of Negomano, according to Mozambican authorities.”

UNHCR has spoken of “worrying” reports and has urged neighboring countries to respect access to asylum for those fleeing widespread violence and armed conflict in Northern Mozambique.

Mr. Viljoen highlights the increased attacks in Palma and says that Mozambican forces have launched counter-offensives in some of the attacks.

 “Skirmishes continue in Mozambique, with the most recent bouts of violence being reported over the past week,” he says, adding that on 28 May, insurgents attacked Quiwiya, a coastal town approximately 15 kilometres Northeast of Palma.

Another exchange between the military and the militants occurred on May 30 in Muidumbe.

The DHPI official says, in reference to the military exchange, “The offensive was only two days because there was no logistical support for reinforcements and supplies as requested by the commanders.”

Mr. Viljoen warns that the “stop-start offensives” only serve to strengthen the insurgents as they learn the weaknesses of the army and are able to adapt their operations accordingly.