Catholic Charity Blames IDP Woes in Mozambique on Manipulation of Figures

Johan Viljoen, Director of Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) on his visit to Nampula in Mozambique. Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

Organizations working with refugees are manipulating the statistics of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Northern Mozambique, the Catholic charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has said, noting that the situation is endangering the lives of those who continue to be forced out of their homes in the region’s raging violence. 

Officials of DHPI spent nearly two weeks in Nampula, one of Mozambique's embattled provinces in the north, and sought to find out whether the figures given by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicating that only 76,568 people had been displaced in the province were true.

According to the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, only 2,895 IDPs had been registered in Rapale District in Nampula, and only 168 in Namiconha area. According to the organization, no IDP had been registered in the Nacala Porto region of the northern province. 

On visiting the various regions in Nampula, however, DHPI found that the information provided by IOM was false.

"DHPI traveled extensively throughout Nampula province starting 15-24 November and found that the situation on the ground flatly contradicts official statistics. From the provincial boundary at the Lurio River, all the way to Namialo (a distance of more than 90 km), the entire expanse of the road is lined with newly constructed huts of IDPs on both sides of the road,” DHPI Director, Johan Viloen, said in a report he shared with ACI Africa.


He added, in the Tuesday, November 29 report, “At Namiconha, where only 168 IDPs are reported, humanitarian workers already have more than 200 families on their lists, translating to more than 1,000 people. At Rapale, where a total of 2,895 are reported, well-placed sources in the community have already registered more than 6,000 IDPs, in one settlement alone."

At Nacala Porto, where IOM claims that there are no IDPs, DHPI visited a project supporting large numbers of IDPs in only one neighborhood. Here, local sources confirmed to the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) that there are many IDPs in all neighborhoods of the city. 

“Church sources confirm that there are large IDP communities in almost all towns and villages all the way to the southern border of the province,” Mr. Viljoen said, and faulted bodies responsible for the welfare of IDPs and refugees for relying on government sources for information pertaining to conflict.

“Despite ongoing attacks in Cabo Delgado, spreading to the south and west of the province and resulting in well-publicized movements of IDPs into Nampula Province, UNHCR statistics have remained surprisingly constant for at least the past year – above 800 000, but never quite reaching a million," the DHPI Director said.

He added, “UNHCR and IOM depend on the statistics they receive from the government. The government is anxious to create the impression that the situation is stable and that IDPs are returning to their places of origin.”

More in Africa

According to Mr. Viljoen, the Mozambican government is giving the impression of a country that is returning to normalcy so as to have French oil company TotalEnergies resuming its operations at Afungi in northern Mozambique. 

He faults the UNHCR and IOM for continually downplaying, and sometimes, denial of what he refers to as the rapidly escalating humanitarian catastrophe in Nampula Province.

Such manipulation, the DHPI official says, denies the IDPs the much-needed humanitarian support.

“The manipulation of statistics and the denial of the presence of huge numbers of IDPs threatens the livelihoods of these IDPs. If they are not registered and their presence is not acknowledged, they are not included in budgets for humanitarian assistance, and will not receive anything,” Mr. Viljoen says.

He adds, “Once again the lives of the poor are being sacrificed for the sake of political and economic expediency”


DHPI visited Rapale District in Nampula Province on November 20, and found that the situation had deteriorated. The peace entity had visited the district in November last year and reported on large numbers of IDPs arriving there, often on foot, from Cabo Delgado, and living in precarious conditions.

In the original IDP settlement on the southern outskirts of Rapale, local sources told the SACBC peace entity that there were over 6,000 IDPs as opposed to IOM’s figure of 2,895. 

Locals further reported that IDPs are now present in every neighborhood of the town, and in all distant villages in the surrounding areas.

Highlighting challenges that the IDP face at the settlement, Mr. Viloen said, “There are still no facilities. The ‘original’' settlement now has water from a borehole, installed by a Catholic Sister. There is still no school, and no regular distribution of food or humanitarian assistance.”

DHPI was told that the Community of Sant'egidio came some time back to distribute food to IDPs, based on a name list obtained from the local authorities. 

(Story continues below)

On the day of the distribution, however, many whose names were on the list did not even live in Rapale, Mr. Viljoen says, and adds that the purported IDPs were accused of being friends and relatives of the local authorities. 

The official of DHPI has also reported the escalating tension between IDPs and host communities in northern Mozambique. 

Additionally, he says, the peace entity that has been monitoring the six-year violence in Mozambique was told of a meeting between government officials and IDPs in the northern parts of the country. In the meeting, IDPs reportedly accused the government of doing nothing to assist them. 

“Government officials in turn accused IDPs of being supporters of the insurgency, before leaving the meeting without attending to any of the issues raised,” Mr. Viljoen said.

He added, “DHPI was told of several IDPs who had heeded the calls to return home. They went, found their places of origin to still be under insurgent attacks, and returned to Rapale.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.