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Catholic Charity Reports Despair among Displaced in Mozambique Despite World Bank Support

A Catholic Priest and a Religious Sister having a moment with refugees in the Catholic Diocese of Pemba in Mozambique. Thousands of refugees from Cabo Delgado have found refuge in the Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Nampula/ Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

The Catholic peace and charity organization, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has shared with ACI Africa the growing humanitarian crisis among residents of Cabo Delgado in Northern Mozambique where displaced people are starving in refugee camps even after the World Bank released funds to alleviate suffering in the camps.

In an update sent to ACI Africa on Thursday, June 17, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, says that the displaced people in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region need help desperately.

“The World Bank has signed a $100 million grant to Mozambique to assist in development projects in the Northern provinces,” Mr. Viljoen says, and adds, “However, it seems those funds have not yet reached the people on the ground, who need the help desperately.”

The World Bank, in April, approved a $100 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA) in support of the Government of Mozambique’s Northern Crisis Recovery Project in Cabo Delgado.

The project focuses on addressing immediate early recovery initiatives in the province weighed down with violence, including restoration of livelihoods and economic opportunities, building of social cohesion, and improving access to basic services as well as the rehabilitation of selected public infrastructure intended to benefit internally displaced persons (IDPs) and host communities in targeted areas of Northern Mozambique.

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According to the DHPI official, however, many IDPs continue to complain of sustained hunger in the camps they have relocated to and are willing to take risks to flee Cabo Delgado rather than stay and starve. 

“People are still making the dangerous decision to flee Palma (a town in Cabo Delgado) by taking pirate boats down to Pemba, even though they risk being attacked by insurgents or other pirates on the way,” he says.

The official of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) says that last month alone, there were at least four confirmed reports of insurgent hijacking of boats.

He says that some people even try to walk north to Tanzania, but that the Tanzanian government has instituted a policy of immediate deportation of people from Mozambique.

Still, others try to travel west to Nangande, a District in Cabo Delgado, and have to make it through a territory heavy with fighting between government and insurgent forces.

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“An average of 32,000 people fled Palma for different locations from April to May,” Mr. Viljoen says, and adds, “Of these, about 31 percent are women, 41 percent children and 265 are men.”

Displaced people who have shared their experiences in the IDP camps in Cabo Delgado have also reported increased cases of sexual violence and other cases of atrocities within the camps.

“Women and children in IDP camps are reporting incidences of physical and sexual violence with greater regularity, with many women claiming violence from insurgents, traffickers and even government security forces,” he says.

The Director of DHPI notes that the increase of gender-based violence and sexual violations is a major point of concern.

For those who have already fled, he says, tensions between them and hosting communities are an ever-present reality.

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“The struggle for scarce resources between IDPs and hosting communities seems to be escalating, with hosting communities feeling the pinch from lower levels of food and water, which they are attributing to the IDPs,” Mr. Viljoen says in the update shared with ACI Africa June 17.

Another concern in the IDP camps, according to the DHPI official, is that there have been reports of insurgent infiltration in some camps, with clandestine recruitment of fighters.

He says that in some cases, insurgents travel with fleeing people towards Quitanda and Pemba in the south. Quitanda is a new community constructed for households affected by physical displacement north of Palma and Pemba.

“Government forces conduct security checks on boats in hopes of catching insurgents, but without accurate, up to date and confirmed information on fighters, it can be difficult for security forces to keep track of the infiltration,” Mr. Viljoen says.

As a result, he adds, “government forces have begun to ask civilians to become reporters of possible insurgent activity themselves, which could place civilians in danger of reprisals and violence.”

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Mr. Viljoen further says that various towns in Cabo Delgado experienced 23 instances of violence and 49 confirmed fatalities in May, with skirmishes having been mostly reported in Muidumbe, Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia and Nangande.

In the June 17 country update, the DHPI Director expresses relief that May was “a relatively quiet month,” a situation he attributes to the protracted combat situation in Cabo Delgado.