Maputo (Agenzia Fides) - “A ghost town”. The Mozambican armed forces have taken full control of the town of Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, driving out the remaining islamist terrorists who had attacked the town on 24 March (see Fides, 27/3/2021). According to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, at least 11,000 people have fled the Palma area, and thousands more have been trapped inside the area.
Fr. António Chamboco, who has been parish priest in Palma for about a year, and who was not in the city when the attack began, said he was particularly worried about the lack of information on the whereabouts of his parishioners, also because telephone communications are still interrupted.
The Catholic diocese of Pemba has mobilized to help the displaced people of Palma who have found refuge in the area.
According to UNHCR, civilians fleeing Palma have arrived in Pemba, Nangade, Mueda and Montepuez on foot and by boat since March 24, the day after the attack. Humanitarian flights that initially contributed to the evacuation of hundreds have been suspended pending further authorization from the authorities.
The UN refugee agency also reports that it received information that at least 1,000 people fleeing Mozambique and trying to enter Tanzania were not allowed to cross the border to seek asylum. "We are seeking information on these reports. UNHCR calls on Mozambique's neighbors to provide access to their territory and initiate asylum procedures for those fleeing violence and seeking protection", reads a statement.
The past three years of violence in northern Mozambique have caused nearly 700,000 internally displaced people most in the past year. UNHCR officials warn that this number could exceed the one million mark by June this year if the ongoing violence does not stop.
The Mozambican army announced that it had regained control of the city and that part of the population would return to their homes, in what remains a militarized area.
Meanwhile, a meeting of southern African leaders in Mozambique's capital Maputo was announced in the coming days to try to come up with plans to counter the growing threat of terrorism across the region. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 8/4/2021)