Since 2017, Cabo Delgado has been the centre of a violent jihadist rebellion, leading to numerous fatalities and displacing more than a million individuals. The Islamic State’s propaganda arm has suggested that the militants are primarily targeting the Christian majority population in an effort to stoke religious tensions in the areas they operate. The rebels have taken over key towns, endangering multi-billion-dollar natural gas projects crucial for Mozambique’s economic prospects.

By Staff Reporter

Six years after the onset of the violent conflict in northern Mozambique, residents of Cabo Delgado continue to live in terror. As reported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), more than 80,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to attacks by armed factions since the beginning of 2024.

MSF says the displaced families are in immediate need of provisions such as food, housing, aid supplies, medical assistance, and mental health support.

“Displaced people often have been highly traumatised by the violence”, says Esperança Chinhanja, MSF’s Psychologist in Macomia, one of the affected districts of Cabo Delgado, “Some people experience anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, isolation and have recurrent thoughts. Some share they lost the meaning of life and mention suicidal thoughts.”

Since 2017, numerous families have been forced to relocate on multiple occasions. The majority of these families have experienced or witnessed severe acts of violence, such as murders, sexual assaults, abductions, extortion, and the destruction of villages.

Many individuals have either personally experienced or witnessed their loved ones and community members being murdered, beheaded, or shot to death. Additionally, some have lost all members of their family.

“The violence isn’t abating, and people have to flee repeatedly. As of January 2024, some 76,000 people living in Macomia, have been displaced over the past years. In February, some 3,600 people were newly displaced following multiple attacks in the district. Their stories are harrowing,” says MSF.

MSF Interviewed Displaced Individuals

Joaquim*, 42 years old, has been displaced since 2022 and is now responsible for registering new people arriving at a camp for displaced families in Macomia. He records the names of all newcomers and carries their stories, experiences, needs, and frustrations. “At night, many people can’t sleep because they are still afraid. Several prefer to stay awake to ensure everything is okay and nothing bad is happening,” shares Joaquim while stressing that food is the most urgent need for displaced families.

In February, Amade*, a 60-year-old farmer, was forced to flee his village in Pangane. He is currently in a camp in Macomia village, some 45 km from his hometown. While visiting an MSF clinic he shared “When we heard shots being fired, we started running. This was the fourth time fleeing attacks in my village since 2020. We don’t have any food and we are relying on the generosity of others to eat. I have lost so much weight that I do not even recognise my body – my pants are falling off as they don’t fit any longer. At night I can’t sleep between being hungry and haunted by the memories of the attacks.”

Like Amade, Ernestina Jeremias, a 32-year-old midwife, was also displaced in February from Chai and is currently in the Macomia village of Cabo Delgado, some 40 kilometres away from her area of origin. “The attacks destroyed everything we had, including our lives. This is the third time I have fled from Chai. The last attacks were the most brutal as they happened repeatedly for two weeks. I have been in a displacement centre since I arrived in Macomia. Here, I am providing support to pregnant women from my community who also fled the attacks, and I refer the most serious cases to MSF clinics. This is what keeps me going.” says Ernestina.

Atija, a 28-year-old mother, accompanying her two children to the MSF clinic in Nanga also shared: “I was pregnant when our village was attacked in Meluco district in 2022. I saw my house being burnt down, we lost everything we had on that day. My family and I fled to the bush and walked for two days. Since then, I have never been the same and I am still struggling with panic attacks and insomnia, and I want to be alone most of the time. I find my strength to continue living with my children and trying to find food for us. I am working in other people’s fields, and they give me dried cassava in exchange.”

Collapse of Public Services

MSF has expressed serious concerns about the ongoing conflict’s substantial effects on public services, especially due to the destruction of health facilities, which hinders access to essential healthcare services.

In Macomia, Cabo Delgado, only one out of the seven health centres managed by the Ministry of Health before the conflict remains operational. MSF assists three clinics in Macomia village, offering life-saving aid and medical treatment to both long-term and recently displaced individuals.

“The security situation remains volatile in Cabo Delgado, and it is premature to talk about stabilisation and the return of life to normal. As of December 2023, over 540,000 people remained displaced, while 600,000 returned to their villages.

“On several occasions, those returning to areas of origin still live in fear due to the trauma lived and the risk of becoming displaced once again by new attacks.

“MSF has been working in Cabo Delgado since 2019. At present, we work in the districts of Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia, Mueda, Muidumbe, Nangade, and Palma providing independent, impartial, and neutral humanitarian and medical assistance to displaced communities and those returning to areas of origin.

“In 2023, MSF reached over 85,000 people in mental health group activities and provided 5,000 individual mental health sessions in Cabo Delgado.”

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