Cabo Delgado displacement could top the million mark – UNHCR

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UN refugee agency (UNHCR) senior management warn of an urgent need to address the growing humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, where an ongoing insurgency has uprooted hundreds of thousands.

Assistant High Commissioners Gillian Triggs and Raouf Mazou heard shocking accounts from survivors of a crisis unfolding in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of several devastating cyclones.

Violence is escalating, they told journalists on their return from the east African country, with internally displaced people (IDPs) increasing from around 70  000 a year ago, to close to 700 000 today and expected to reach a million by June.

“If one looks at the speed we are seeing the number of internally displaced persons rise, we know the window of opportunity is closing”, said Mazou, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations.

The insurgency began in 2017 and over 2 000 people have been killed, but it is not clear who the insurgents are, how they are supported, or what they want, according to Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

A “mysterious group” is responsible for beheadings, killings, rape and other atrocities.

Displaced people, more than half children, fled by boat or on land for safer areas further south in the province.  Most found shelter with family and friends in urban areas or with host communities in villages. The Mozambican government is developing sites for displaced people.

Authorities moved some people from overcrowded areas to a settlement site, where they live in primitive conditions and shelter, food, clothing, as well as water and sanitation, are desperately needed. Triggs said authorities distributed food there in December no further distributions happened since, either by government or the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

She was also of grandmothers caring for orphaned grandchildren, now commonplace.

“In one case, the grandmother was caring for a few months old baby. Her daughter was killed in the conflict. The father of the child was killed, beheaded and the grandmother was in a period of grief, trying to care for the child without milk. They were grinding up root vegetables for the children, giving them diarrhoea and exposing them to other illnesses”, she said.

Triggs reported on a few bright spots, including a project to provide displaced people with official documentation to allow them to access education, transport and social services.

Authorities have established an agency for developing northern Mozambique, he said, in efforts to address some root causes of the crisis, which include lack of development and access to resources.

“What we’re facing now is the need for immediate humanitarian assistance and to think of the long term for those who may remain where they are now”, he said.