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UNHCR scales up response as thousands flee attacks in northern Mozambique

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This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

06 April 2021

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, continues to work around the clock to assist thousands of people reaching safety in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. A recent attack by insurgents on the coastal town of Palma has forced out at least 11,000 people, with thousands more reported to be trapped inside the area.

Civilians have been arriving in Pemba, Nangade, Mueda and Montepuez by foot, road, and boat since 24 March, in the aftermath of the attack. Humanitarian flights that helped evacuate hundreds initially have now been suspended pending further clearance by authorities.

UNHCR teams in Pemba have received worrying reports from displaced populations that over 1,000 people fleeing Mozambique and trying to enter Tanzania were not allowed to cross the border to seek asylum. We are following up on these reports in Tanzania. UNHCR calls on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and asylum procedures for those escaping violence and seeking protection.

Three years of turmoil in the north of the country has displaced nearly 700,000 inside Mozambique – most during the last year. UNHCR officials have warned that this number could cross the million mark by June this year if the ongoing violence does not stop.

UNHCR is putting in place measures to receive more arrivals in the coming days. Our staff are reaching areas outside Pemba to assist newly displaced people.

The majority of new arrivals are women and children with few belongings, most showing signs of severe trauma following the atrocities they witnessed and worried for those relatives who were left behind. The sudden and deadly nature of the attacks have left families torn apart, many still unable to leave. Among the vulnerable groups arriving in Pemba were unaccompanied children, separated families and older people.

UNHCR and its partners have been distributing relief items, including blankets and sleeping mats. Some people are being accommodated in a transit centre in Pemba, set up by the Government, while the majority of displaced people are living with relatives and friends whose scarce resources are being rapidly exhausted.

We are identifying the most vulnerable cases in need of urgent assistance and referring them to services, and tracing and reuniting lost family members. Nearly 80 per cent of separated individuals are women and children. UNHCR is also training partner organization staff on protecting displaced people from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.

The escalation of violence in Cabo Delgado has severely impacted health, water, and shelter facilities and access to food in the region. This harrowing humanitarian crisis is compounded by an already fragile situation of chronic underdevelopment, consecutive climatic disasters, and recurrent disease outbreaks including, most recently, COVID-19. More resources are badly needed as underfunding is hampering our humanitarian response. UNHCR appeal for our Cabo Delgado of US$ 19.2 million is just under 40 per cent funded.

New footage from Mozambique’s Cabo del Gado region will be available shortly. Please check Refugees Media for availability, at http://media.unhcr.org, or contact hqvideo@unhcr.org to receive email advisories regarding new video releases.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

In Pemba, Margarida Loureiro, loureiro@unhcr.org, +258 84 323 2683, +351 964 848 489 (what’s app)
In Pemba, Francesca Fontanini, fontanin@unhcr.org, +258 84 312 0930
In Maputo, Juliana Ghazi, ghazi@unhcr.org, +258 84 321 1545, +1 917 628 9073 (what’s app)
In Pretoria (regional), Hélène Caux, caux@unhcr.org, + 27 82 376 5190
In Geneva, Babar Baloch, baloch@unhcr.org, +41 79 513 9549
In Geneva, Boris Cheshirkov, cheshirk@unhcr.org, +41 79 433 7682
In New York, Kathryn Mahoney, mahoney@unhcr.org, +1 347 443 7646