This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
This week marks five years since extreme violence erupted in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, forcing nearly 1 million people to flee during that time.
Tragically, conflict has not subsided, and thousands of families are still being forced to leave their homes because of attacks by non-state armed groups. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling for an end to the violence and on the international community to provide sustainable support to reduce the suffering of the displaced population and local host communities in northern Mozambique.
Extreme violence and displacement have had a devastating impact on the population. People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground. Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives.
Five years on, the humanitarian situation across Cabo Delgado has continued to deteriorate and displacement figures have increased by 20 percent to 946,508 in the first half of this year. The conflict has now spilled into the neighbouring province of Nampula, which witnessed four attacks by armed groups in September affecting at least 47,000 people and displacing 12,000.
People displaced during those latest attacks told UNHCR that they are scared and hungry. They lack medicine and are living in crowded conditions – with four to five families sharing one house. Some sleep under open skies. Lack of privacy and exposure to cold at night and the elements during the day, create additional safety and health concerns, particularly for women and children.
UNHCR has been continuously responding to the needs of displaced populations in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces with humanitarian assistance and protection support. We are providing shelter and household items, helping survivors of gender-based violence with legal, medical, and psycho-social support, and supporting displaced people to obtain legal documentation. UNHCR also supports people at higher risk, including children, people with disabilities, and older people.
Despite ongoing displacement in Cabo Delgado, some people have returned to their homes in areas they perceive as safe. Last month, UNHCR and partners conducted the first protection assessment mission to Palma, in the far north-east of the country. Palma saw deadly attacks in March 2021 which displaced most of the district’s 70,000 people. The majority have returned in the past few weeks.
People who have lost everything are returning to areas where services and humanitarian assistance are largely unavailable. UNHCR is concerned about the risks people face should they continue to return to their areas of origin before conditions are stabilized.
UNHCR is in favour of returns for displaced families when these are voluntary, safe, informed, dignified, and when the conditions are conducive, including once basic services are restored to ensure their sustainability.
UNHCR considers security conditions to be too volatile in Cabo Delgado to facilitate or promote returns to the province. However, growing protection needs and limited services for those who have chosen to return home must still be urgently addressed by relevant stakeholders, including authorities and humanitarian actors.
UNHCR is working closely with the government and other partners to support and advocate for the inclusion of all displaced populations in national services.
As of September 2022, the US $36.7 million needed for UNHCR to deliver life-saving protection services and assistance in Mozambique was only 60 per cent funded.