A resurgence in hostilities between Mozambican armed forces and Renamo rebels has triggered widespread fear among Zimbabweans living in eastern Manicaland Province that runs along the countries’ common border.
During the 1977-1992 Mozambican Civil War, Zimbabwe hosted tens of thousands of refugees from its eastern neighbour at Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge District. The fighting also caused much insecurity in eastern Zimbabwe.
Twenty-four years after that war, the insecurity has returned as well as refugees fleeing the conflict back home.
Enock Porusingazi, legislator for Chipinge South, estimates that at least 1 000 Mozambicans have fled into his constituency where some are living with relatives while others have built shacks for themselves.
“There is a lot of fear in my constituency given the fact that our province is on the border with Mozambique,” he said. “People are panicking because this is not the first time a conflict in Mozambique has destabilised us. In the 1980s into the early 1990s we had the same problem. The crisis was too bad then because the fighting was intense but you never know how the current fighting will develop.”
He said the forced migration is worsening food insecurity among Zimbabwean villagers, already affected by a drought that, according to the United Nations, has left four million people hungry nationwide.
“Therefore, authorities should move in quickly with food aid,” said Porusingazi, a ruling party legislator. “The government, working with its partners must act now because the numbers are increasing daily. At first, it was a family or two arriving, but now the numbers have grown. It is many families. In Chipinge South the number is beyond 1 000 people. This excludes those who have been officially registered at the refugee camp. This tells you that the refugees are a few thousands.”
The Mozambican conflict flared up into an armed confrontation around December 2015, a year after Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama decamped from Maputo to the mountainous Gorongosa region in central Mozambique, accusing the Frelimo government of targeting him and electoral rigging.
Peace talks between his rebel movement and President Filipe Nyusi’s Frelimo government resumed on August 8 under international mediators.
Al Jazeera reported late July that at least 12 000 Mozambicans asylum seekers have fled to Malawi. In Zimbabwe, acting Chipinge District administrator in Manicaland, Freeman Mavhiza was quoted in a state-run weekly on August 5 saying the government has registered 712 refugees so far this month, up from 514 recorded in July.
“The number can be more than that,” he said, “because there are some areas where foreigners settling there were not recorded. When these foreigners enter this country they resist being accommodated at the well designate Tongogara Refugee Camp claiming that they have extended families.”
Tongogara Refugee Camp has 9 000 refugees, most of whom are Rwandese, Burundian and Congolese. But the centre is short of food and medical drugs.
Shuvai Mahofa, regional minister for southern Masvingo Province said: “Our people are feeling insecure because some of our people in Chiredzi South are close to the border. However, we hope the security situation will normalise as soon as possible.”