1. More Than 9 000 Refugees Forced Back From Tanzania to Cabo Delgado

The head of the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Pemba, Margarida Loureiro, says there are still reports of gunfire and houses burning in some areas of Palma. With more than 70,000 people forcibly displaced from that district alone, the situation continues to be one of alert and intense work for humanitarian agencies operating in Cabo Delgado. In an interview with DW Africa, Loureiro says that it is not possible to know objectively whether the city continues to be dominated by terrorists, because humanitarian access is restricted in several areas north of Cabo Delgado. “What we have are the reports of people who leave Palma in extreme need”, she explains.

The UNHCR head in Pemba points out that her team is receiving thousands of forcibly returned Mozambicans from Tanzania. “This is a clear violation of the principle of non-return of someone seeking to save their life and seeking asylum in another country.” Border authorities have registered 9,600 people “returned” from Tanzania since January.

“ People who are being forcibly displaced from their homes, from their lands, have the most terrifying reports. The situation in Palma remains very unstable. People report that they hear gunshots at night, that there are houses that continue to burn in some areas – which has led these people and families, often separated as well, to seek other places to safeguard their lives. This is the reality we’ve been watching since March 24th. There are already more than 70,000 people forcibly displaced from the Palma district alone”.

She says that the UNHCR has insufficient funds to provide all the assistance that is needed. “ This is an operation that is not fully funded, funding is scarce. All organizations, not only UNHCR, but the various United Nations organizations that are on the ground, give what they have and how they can to assist people who are here in Cabo Delgado province and those who are going to other provinces. On this side of the border, which is where we are, we are receiving thousands of Mozambicans, especially women and children, who are being forcibly returned to Mozambique. This is a clear violation of the principle of non-return of someone seeking to save their life and seeking asylum in another country because of a situation of persecution in an armed conflict in their own country. This is what has been happening. We have been with personnel on border observation in the Negomano area. Since January of this year, we have numbers through the border authorities of Mozambique, who work with us and have been working 24 hours to protect these people who arrive in Negomano. There are already around 9,600 people who have arrived since January”.

2. Situation Update

May was a relatively quiet month in the protracted combat situation in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. Some key statistics include:

  •  23 instances of recognized political violence
  •  49 confirmed fatalities
  •  Skirmishes have been mostly reported in Muidumbe, Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia and Nangande

There were two key developments in Mozambique over the last month. One, political, and one economic. The political development is the stalling of the intervention by the SADC and EU. The SADC had their Double Troika meeting on 27 May 2021, which many in the region thought would signal a decided change in the political will to deal with the insurgency. The SADC, under President Masisi of Botswana, had made assurances of support to Mozambique, up to and including regional military intervention. To date, this has not happened. Instead, it all seems to have gone quiet and the minister of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in South Africa, Naledi Pandor, has intimated that it is an ongoing process of consultation and a decision will be reached soon.

On the economic front, as we recently reported, Mozambique is haemorrhaging more potential foreign investment with Galp Energia, an energy company in Portugal, deciding to withhold its investment in the LNG consortium until assurances are made by the Mozambican government to guarantee the safety of its operations and investment in the extraction of Liquid Natural Gas at the Rovuma offshore plant. This delay in investment, which is now being diverted to Brazil, is worth about $30 Billion. Galp has stated categorically that the investment is off its books for at least the next five years, which could be devastating for Mozambique, which had projected a boost to its employment figures of 70 000 jobs for 20 years from 2022, and an injection into its economy of upwards of $100 Billion over the same period. The work stoppage by Total Energies, ExxonMobil and now Galp, will without a doubt cripple Mozambique’s already struggling economy.

The World Bank has signed a $100 million grant to Mozambique to assist in development projects in the Northern provinces. However, it seems those funds have not yet reached the people on the ground, who need the help desperately. Many IDPs continue to complain of sustained hunger in the camps they’ve relocated to. People are still making the dangerous decision to flee Palma by taking pirate boats down to Pemba, even though they risk being attacked by insurgents or other pirates on the way. In May alone, they were at least four confirmed report of insurgent hijacking of boats. Some people even try to walk north to Tanzania, but the Tanzanian government has instituted a policy of immediate deportation of people from Mozambique. Others try to travel west to Nangande, and have to make it through territory heavy with fighting between government and insurgent forces. An average of 32 000 people fled Palma for different locations from April to May. Of these, about 31% are women, 41% children and 265 are men. Women and children in IDP camps are reporting incidences of physical and sexual violence with greater regularity, with many women claiming violence from insurgents, traffickers and even government security forces. Therefore the increase of gender based violence and sexual violations is a major point of concern.

For those who have already fled, tensions between them and hosting communities are an ever present reality. The struggle for scarce resources between IDPs and hosting communities seems to be escalating, with hosting communities feeling the pinch from lower levels of food and water, which they are attributing to the IDPs. Another concern in the IDP camps is that there have been reports of insurgent infiltration in some camps, with clandestine recruitment of fighters. In some cases, insurgents travel with fleeing people towards Quitanda and Pemba. Government forces conduct security checks on boats in hopes of catching insurgents, but without accurate, up to date and confirmed information on fighters, it can be difficult for security forces to keep track of the infiltration. As a result, government forces have begun to ask civilians to become reporters of possible insurgent activity themselves, which could place civilians in danger of reprisals and violence.

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