File photo: Lusa
The total number of people displaced by the armed attack against the town of Palma, in Cabo Delgado, amounts to 30,000 and in some places they are the target of “abuses”, according to information made available by the United Nations on Friday.
“In the village of Quitunda, in Palma, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received reports of serious abuses committed against vulnerable groups, including physical assaults on people trying to flee to safer areas using boats,” a statement read.
A source from the organisation in Maputo told Lusa that the reports were obtained from displaced people who arrived in Pemba, the provincial capital, at a time when no UN agency was present in Palma district, and therefore said they could not indicate who the perpetrators of the abuses were.
In turn, an official source from the Mozambican military forces, which control the area, told Lusa they were unaware of the reported situation.
The scenario raises concern among the UNHCR.
“Some people are still fleeing Palma, but with only a few evacuation routes available, we are concerned about those who have no alternatives but to remain” in the district attacked on March 24, the note further read.
A report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) published a fortnight ago said there were at least 11,000 people in need of urgent humanitarian aid, such as food and other essentials, but with no way of delivering it, at a school in Quitunda, at the gates of the northern Mozambique gas project, the largest private investment in Africa.
The village of Palma is six kilometres to the north and the IOM said today it was “working with all the coordination mechanisms that have been put in place and with all the humanitarian partners” to “start planning how to deliver assistance” safely to Quitunda and Palma, said Laura Tomm-Bonde, IOM’s head of mission in Mozambique, at a press conference in Maputo.
Ensuring security of operations is a central concern, she stressed.
According to the latest update by IOM, the number of displaced persons registered after the attack on Palma amounts to 30,477, of which 43% are children, and 377 have arrived alone in safe areas.
A total of 78% of these displaced persons live with host families and 1,028 are elderly, the document reads.
“Dozens of people were killed during the attacks” on Palma, while “thousands fled on foot, by road and by sea”.
“Many more people are believed to still be trapped in Palma” and that “those who have fled have faced significant barriers as they seek safe havens inside and outside the country,” UNHCR concluded.
Armed groups have terrorised Cabo Delgado since 2017, with some attacks claimed by the ‘jihadist’ group Islamic State, in a wave of violence that has led to more than 2,500 deaths according to the ACLED conflict registration project and 714,000 displaced people according to the Mozambican government.
The attack on Palma caused dozens of deaths and injuries, in a balance that is still ongoing.
The Mozambican authorities regained control of the town, but the attack led oil company Total to abandon indefinitely the gas project site that was scheduled to start production in 2024 and on which many of Mozambique’s economic growth expectations for the next decade are anchored.