Jihadist raid on Mozambique’s Palma forced 30,000 to flee: UN

The UN said Friday that tens of thousands of people had fled the northern Mozambican town of Palma following jihadist attacks late last month that left dozens dead.

Of the coastal town’s roughly 75,000 population, almost half — 30,000 — “have moved” since the March 24 raid by Islamic State-linked militants, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) chief of mission in Mozambique, Laura Tomm-Bonde, told AFP.

This was in addition to some 23,000 who are believed to have moved to nearby Quitunda village, close to a huge gas plant being built by the French energy giant Total. The firm suspended work on the scheme after the attacks.   

The latest displacement takes the numbers of people uprooted from their homes in Cabo Delgado province to around 700,000, according to government and aid agency tallies.

Tomm-Bonde said this compared to 100,000 displaced persons in January 2020.

The jump indicates “a big crisis,” she said, adding: “We are gravely concerned.” 

“The number of displaced people reported by IOM continues to increase by the day,” she said.

“Thousands are believed to be travelling through dense forests.”

The IOM’s emergency director, Jeff Labovitz, who is visiting Mozambique, said there were some 60,000 displaced people in five districts who could not be reached by aid agencies.

“We want to be able to reach people who have needs,” he told AFP.

“We need to make sure there is a secure environment with national authorities in order to get access. Until then, we are very concerned.”

The raid marked a major intensification in an insurgency launched in 2017 by a ruthless jihadist group known locally as al-Shabab.

The violence has killed at least 2,800 people, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project.

In Geneva earlier, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the refugee agency was deeply concerned by humanitarian needs, especially for women and children.

“Those who fled have faced significant barriers trying to reach safety both inside the country and while attempting to cross borders,” Baloch told reporters.

Equally concerning, he said, was the separation of families. 

“Hundreds of children have arrived traumatised and exhausted after being separated from their families. Many others have come with their mothers.”

Baloch said those escaping violence were arriving with “no belongings, often with health issues including injuries and severe malnutrition.”

He stressed that some people were continuing to flee Palma.

“With only a few evacuation routes remaining open, we are worried for those who are unable to leave the area,” he said.

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