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The Humanitarian Implications of the Insurgency’s Southern Offensive

The insurgency's offensive in the south of Cabo Delgado in June 2022 has led to a new wave of displacements in northern Mozambique, exacerbating the difficult mission of providing humanitarian assistance and undermining hopes of a return home

By Tomás Queface, for the Cabo Ligado Monthly report for June 2022

The insurgency's offensive in the south of Cabo Delgado in June 2022 has led to a new wave of displacements in northern Mozambique. Apart from exacerbating the difficult mission of providing humanitarian assistance in the province, these displacements in the south of Cabo Delgado have brought new uncertainties about the possibilities of displaced people returning to their areas of origin, one of the priorities of the Mozambican government.

While the northeastern districts of Cabo Delgado have been hard hit by the violent insurgency, the southern districts of Montepuez, Balama, Ancuabe, Chiure, and Mecufi were considered safe, accommodating thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) from other areas.

However, the security situation in southern Cabo Delgado has changed dramatically since insurgents hit Nanduli village in Ancuabe district on 5 June. Ancuabe district had until then been considered a safe haven for those displaced by the conflict, but the panic and fear caused by the attacks in June resulted in a massive displacement of people within and out of the district. ACLED data record 18 organized political violence events, mainly attacks against civilians, in Ancuabe during the month of June. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated that at least 36,000 people fled their homes following these attacks, most of whom sought refuge in neighboring districts such as Metuge, Montepuez, Chiure, and Pemba City.

The insecurity in Ancuabe also had implications for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Prior to the Nanduli attack, there were at least 12 IDP centers in Ancuabe assisted by national and international organizations. The World Food Program (WFP) provided food assistance and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) offered nutritional assistance and child protection, working through the Catholic aid organization Caritas. Other organizations like Medicus Mundi, Muleide, and Kulima provided mental health and psychosocial support, and worked to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. These organizations were forced to suspend their work and transfer their staff to neighboring districts, according to a humanitarian source in Pemba.

The new attacks in the south and the interruption of humanitarian assistance have had drastic consequences for the thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Ancuabe. Many have been forced to walk long distances as government authorities have limited the movement of passenger vehicles and installed military escorts. Humanitarian organizations have expressed their concern at the situation. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the displaced urgently need food assistance and shelter. According to Save the Children, approximately 30,000 children were forced into displacement in June, the highest number in the last 12 months. The organization also noted that this is the worst year for children since the conflict began, as many of them still carry the trauma of violence, and said many children will be left without access to education and psychosocial support. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described the arrival of displaced people in Mieze, Metuge district, as "heartbreaking" given the conditions in which many of them arrived at the IDP centers.

The attacks in southern Cabo Delgado have renewed the feeling of insecurity for both the population and humanitarian organizations, and are frustrating the government's efforts to return the displaced to their areas of origin. The government is seeking to ensure that people return to their homes, claiming that security has improved. It hopes the return of displaced people will decrease pressure on IDP camps, while reinforcing the idea that normalcy is returning to the province. The UNHCR, however, believes it is still premature to think about an immediate return of the populations to their areas of origin, given the escalating insecurity. For the displaced people, no choice seems safe. The new displacements increase the pressure on the centers that receive them, where humanitarian organizations have been forced to reduce food rations due to a shortage of funds. Hunger and lack of shelter eventually lead displaced people to consider leaving the sites, but returning to conflict zones at a time when insurgents are expanding their incursions into previously safe areas is clearly dangerous.

Both the new wave of displacements and the suspension of food aid by humanitarian organizations in Ancuabe will increase the pressure on the Mozambican government and its foreign partners to provide effective security. The Mozambican authorities insist they are already restoring security in the villages, and improving the conditions for the return of essential services in the district, but it is unclear when the displaced people and the humanitarian organizations can return to Anacube district. The re-establishment of security will not remove the sense of insecurity, panic, and fear among the population. Many of the displaced families will have to start again from scratch as they have seen their goods and properties burned and looted. Humanitarian organizations will need more security guarantees to resume their operations in the field. Against this backdrop, as insurgents extend and intensify their attacks, it is unclear whether the government will have enough troops to meet the need for increased security in Ancuabe.