Displaced women with their children wait for assistance at a building used by refugees as shelter in Pemba, Mozambique, after…
Displaced women with their children wait for assistance at a building used by refugees as shelter in Pemba, Mozambique, after they fled attacks in Palma in Northern Mozambique, April 19, 2021.

GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency is repeating its call to Tanzanian authorities to stop forcibly deporting asylum seekers back to Mozambique, where their lives are in danger.

Two-and-a-half months have passed since Islamist militants attacked civilians in the gas-rich coastal town of Palma in northern Mozambique, killing dozens and displacing more than 70,000.

While the level of violence has diminished, the U.N. refugee agency said armed conflict and insecurity continue to displace thousands of people.

Desperate search for safety

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said people are fleeing daily in a desperate search for safety both in Mozambique and across the border in Tanzania.

“9,600 desperate people trying to seek a refuge across the border inside Tanzania and being forced to return to a situation of danger is really grave and it is a dire situation … Refugees must not be forced back into a situation of danger,” Baloch said.

That, he said, violates the principle of non-refoulement or no forced return. International human rights law states that no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture or other treatment that could cause irreparable harm.

Forcibly returned

Baloch said UNHCR teams along the Tanzania-Mozambique border say people being forcibly returned to Mozambique arrive in desperate condition. He said many become separated from their family members adding to their anguish.

“Those pushed back from Tanzania end up in a dire situation at the border and are exposed to gender-based violence and health risks as many are sleeping in the open at night in extreme cold without blankets or a roof over their heads," Baloch said. "There is an urgent need for emergency relief items including food.”

Humanitarian agencies estimate nearly 800,000 people have been displaced in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province since armed groups, some affiliated with Islamic State militants, launched attacks in the region in 2017.