Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique, has been going through a living hell ever since October 2017. In a series of over 600 brutal attacks in nine separate districts of this northern region by armed insurgents, who claim allegiance to the Islamic State, and also in the counter-attacks by the national security forces, it is estimated that over 2000 people have been killed, while over 310,000 others have been forced to flee their homes.
The most recent massacres by the group calling itself “Islamic State in Central Africa” (ISCA) are just now coming to light: last Sunday these alleged jihadists are reported by local sources to have attacked the small town of Muidumbe and beheaded and dismembered the bodies of dozens of people in a local football stadium. And reports have also come through of the massacre of over 15 children and young people, along with their adult “tutors”, who were preparing them to take part in the traditional initiation rites of the Makonde tribe.
“It seems as though they are trying to evict the entire population of the northern part of Cabo Delgado province, expelling the ordinary people without the slightest vestige of compassion”, Sister Blanca Nubia Zapata explained to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International. She was speaking from Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado Province.
“Over 12,000 people have arrived here in the past two weeks. We can’t keep up. Women and children are arriving, and older people who have been walking for days. Some have died on the way, on the roads, and the forest tracks. It’s 180 km (115 miles), but you can’t imagine what our “roads” are like; it’s terribly difficult walking along these tracks, and across the countryside, three or four days on end without food, without water, carrying their children on their backs… There are women who have given birth on the road…”, explains Sister Blanca, who belongs to the Theresian Carmelites of Saint Joseph.
In the last few weeks, hundreds of small boats have also been arriving by sea. Whether in boats, launches, or canoes, the people are desperate to escape the barbarous killings. “We are doing all we can. Very often we can do no more than listen, ask how they are feeling and listen to them. They’ve left everything behind, hoping to escape with their lives.”
“All they want to do is to get away from there; they are simply terrified. Many of the families have asked our help, and we have rescued the families of the children at the school, with immense difficulty, with private vehicles and the help of third parties”, Sister Blanca explains with anguish.
Around a week ago, in a video by Caritas Mozambique that was sent to ACN, Bishop Luiz Fernández Lisboa, the Bishop of Pemba describes the situation as seen from Paquitequete, a suburb of the capital, on the coast: “Already there are around 10,000 refugees who have arrived and they are continuing to arrive. Some as a result of the attacks they have suffered, while others have fled in advance because they are afraid.”
“When they arrive here they have nowhere to sleep, just blankets or makeshift shelters, and still there is no place that has been designated for accommodating them. Some people have been taken in by local families, whether because they have relatives here or simply because people are moved by their situation and have taken people into their homes. It is an extremely difficult situation and hundreds of people are simply sleeping here on the beach. Sadly, there have been some people who have died on the journey, in some cases because these people were two or three days in boats, at sea, and arrived sick and dehydrated.”
“This is a desperate humanitarian situation, for which we are asking, indeed begging the help and solidarity of the international community”, Bishop Fernández Lisboa continues.
“Following this appeal from the bishops, we want to help the diocese of Pemba and the neighboring dioceses with an emergency aid for the victims of Cabo Delgado, on top of the projects we are already sponsoring within the dioceses for its priests and religious. But in addition to this aid, for blankets, clothing, food, basic hygiene products, and also seeds and tools, whatever is needed, we want to help ease the worst of the suffering and trauma. So we have already set up a program for diocesan teams to provide psychological support and counseling to the traumatized refugees in the parishes”, explains Regina Lynch, the head of the projects department of ACN International.
“It looks as though there is finally some international attention being paid to this long-running and largely forgotten tragedy over many long and painful months. Already back in February, ACN published an exclusive interview with Bishop Fernández Lisboa about the crisis and the fear the people were suffering. They have burnt down churches and destroyed convents, and also abducted two religious sisters. But almost nobody has paid any attention to this new focus of terror and jihadist violence in Africa, which is affecting everybody, both Christians and Muslims alike. Let us hope that there will finally be a response to this crisis in northern Mozambique, for the sake of the poorest and most abandoned”, Regina Lynch continues.