Médecins Sans Frontières camps for refugees fleeing violence in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado are mushrooming in the provincial capital of Pemba. Picture: MSF
Médecins Sans Frontières camps for refugees fleeing violence in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado are mushrooming in the provincial capital of Pemba. Picture: MSF

More than half a million people have fled their homes due to an Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique, and the violence and humanitarian crisis will worsen without international help, UN officials said on Wednesday.

“If nothing is done soon, we won’t have only 535,000 displaced people. We won’t have only 2,000 people killed by the conflict, but tens of thousands,” said Valentin Tapsoba, regional director for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

The displaced people are in a dire situation, with overcrowding, malnutrition and a lack of essentials, including food and water, the officials said in an online news briefing.

Insurgents staged their first attack in Cabo Delgado province — where oil giants such as Total are involved in big gas projects — in 2017 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State two years later.

The conflict has escalated since, with attacks growing in scale and frequency and the militants regularly taking and holding entire towns. Mozambique is predominantly Christian but has a Muslim minority, mostly living in the north.

The insecurity has left aid agencies unable to access a huge swathe of the coastal province.

At the beginning of 2020, about 18,000 people had been displaced by the conflict, Lola Castro, World Food Programme (WFP) regional director said. In the second half of the year a rise in people fleeing the violence pushed that number up to more than half a million.

Now, some households in the provincial capital Pemba are hosting many other families. One had opened its home to 66 other people who all slept in one room and shared one latrine, Tapsoba said.

“The situation in Cabo Delgado is appalling,” Castro said.

The briefing followed a visit to Pemba by the UN officials.

Despite its natural resources, Mozambique remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It was locked in a civil war following independence from Portugal in 1975 that lasted until 1992.

Although it has had democratic rule since then, elections have often been challenged and Renamo guerrillas fought a low-level insurgency against their long-time adversary, the ruling Frelimo, from 2013 to 2019. 

Reuters

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