Civilians continue to flee armed conflict and insecurity in northern Mozambique, more than two months after militants attacked the coastal city of Palma, located in Cabo Delgado province, UN agencies reported on Friday.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reports that some 70,000 people have fled the city since 24 March, bringing overall displacement to nearly 800,000.
People have been escaping daily for districts further south, or to neighbouring Tanzania. Thousands more are reported to be stranded in areas around Palma, with restricted humanitarian access.
Shots fired, houses burned
“Those fleeing have told UNHCR staff that the situation in Palma remains very unstable, with regular gunfire at night and torching of houses”, Spokesperson Babar Baloch said during a briefing in Geneva.
UNHCR and partners recently assisted people living in dire conditions in remote areas around Palma, distributing relief items to some 10,000 who have been displaced.
The agency continues to advocate for internally displaced people to receive protection and assistance, and for those seeking safety in Tanzania, to access asylum.
Forced back into danger
Mozambican authorities report that many people attempting to cross the river, which marks the border between the two countries, have been forcibly returned. More than 9,600 have been pushed back since January, with 900 removals occurring over a two-day period this week.
“UNHCR reiterates its call for those fleeing the conflict to have access to territory and asylum, and, in particular, for the principle of non-refoulement (no forced return) to be respected”, said Mr. Baloch. “Refugees must not be forced back into danger.”
‘A children’s crisis’
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said needs are enormous in Cabo Delgado, located in a region that has barely recovered from a deadly cyclone in 2019.
In the wake of the attack in Palma, some 2,000 children have no idea of the whereabouts of their parents, or even if they are alive, agency Spokesperson James Elder told journalists.
“What is happening in Cabo Delgado is a children’s crisis – an emergency on top of an emergency – a deadly cocktail from the impacts of climate change, conflict and COVID-19”, he said.