GENEVA - The United Nations reports more than 11,000 people have fled the coastal town of Palma in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province since jihadist insurgents attacked the town nearly two weeks ago.
Civilians arriving in Pemba, the capital of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado, are telling aid workers that thousands of people are trapped inside Palma and the surrounding area. They also report that people fleeing Mozambique have been refused entry into nearby Tanzania.
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch says it is very worrisome that people fleeing for their lives are being prevented from seeking asylum.
“More than 1,000 tried to cross into Tanzania, tried to cross the border from Mozambique into Tanzania, and they were turned back," Balloch said. "At this stage, we do not know how this happened, who did this, but we are trying to seek clarification from the authorities on the other side, inside Tanzania.”
The UNHCR is appealing to Mozambique’s neighbors to allow entry to people escaping violence and seeking protection.
Dozens of people reportedly were killed by Islamist militants who attacked Palma on March 24. Thousands of people have been displaced and the economic fallout from the onslaught is potentially huge. The French energy giant Total has suspended its multi-billion dollar liquified natural gas project in the area.
Balloch says his agency and others are scaling up relief efforts for the thousands of destitute, deeply distressed survivors of the attacks in Palma.
“The majority of new arrivals are women and children who are coming with few belongings. Most showing signs of severe trauma following the atrocities they witnessed and are 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," Balloch said.
Balloch notes many children are unaccompanied when they arrive. He says efforts are being made to trace and reunite them with their families.
Balloch adds the needs are immense. They range from basic relief, including food, water, health care and shelter to psychological counseling and protection from gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
The UNHCR warns it will be unable to properly assist the displaced without more generous support from donors.
It recently appealed for $19.2 million to help Cabo Delgado. To date, the agency says, less than 40 percent of that has been received.