Cabo Delgado’s hungry refugees are running out of places to run

Insurgents in northern Mozambique opened up a new front last week with a series of attacks in Ancuabe, a district that had been spared by the conflict and which served as a safe haven for people fleeing fighting further north.

The first attack, on the village of Nanduli last Sunday, led thousands to flee their homes. Many are heading towards the provincial capital of Pemba, which is already bursting at the seams with people displaced from the conflict zone.

Provincial governor Valige Tauabo insisted that people should return to their homes, promising a greater military presence to ensure no further attacks happened.

He even led by example, accompanying some of the displaced in vehicles from his own entourage back to the village of Silva Macua. He was there on Wednesday when a graphite mine was attacked, less than 15km up the road. When the military arrived it found two headless bodies, before retreating when confronted by insurgents.


A third attack now seems to have taken place, at a village called Ntutupue, a little further along the road to Pemba. A group of insurgents captured two artisanal miners, then beheaded one and sent his companion away to spread the news.

The civilian population is increasingly left with nowhere to go. The latest attacks will increase pressure on the coastal city of Pemba, where many thousands of displaced people already subsist off a combination of food aid from national and international relief agencies and the kindness of friends, family and strangers in the city.

More than a million people in Cabo Delgado faced a food insecurity crisis in the first three months of this year, according to a recently published humanitarian plan for the region. A further 23 553 face a food emergency, meaning that they are likely to starve to death without immediate food aid.

Last month, The Continent visited a refugee camp at Muaja in Ancuabe.

Amina Mussa, 30, fled from the district of Macomia, where she used to farm and sell her produce across the province. Along her four-day trek to safety, she buried two of her children. “They couldn’t stand the hunger and died, I had to bury them along the way,” she said. “I covered them with branches and continued on.”

Refugees said they were being excluded from food aid distribution on suspicion of belonging to the insurgency, and in favour of people from the area. This, they said, was being done by people in local government who distribute aid from the World Food Programme.

Atia Kululu, head of the administrative post of Minheiene and one of those accused of blocking access to food, denied the claims.

Mussagy Alawe, 37, has been at the refugee camp for two years and said he never imagined he would end up “running away from war to be discriminated against because of food”. He tried to take the case to the police, he said, but “nobody took our complaint seriously. You know here the police obey the government.”

The World Food Programme said it reached 920 000 people affected by the conflict with humanitarian food assistance in April and May: 850 000 in Cabo Delgado and 70 000 in Nampula. 

But a funding shortage has forced them to halve the rations they give. Now, less than 40% of an adult’s caloric needs are covered by the assistance. The organisation says it urgently needs $86-million to provide lifesaving assistance to people affected by the conflict through December 2022.

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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Luis Nhachote, The Continent
Luis Nhachote is an award-winning investigative journalist, editor and researcher, specialising in organised crime and the extractive industries

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