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Thousands desperate for aid on Afungi as government forces maintain climate of fear in Palma

Thousands of people who fled the attacks in Palma are now stuck between police brutality, starvation and sickness, and treacherous sea voyages to escape the area

Thousands of people remain on the Afungi peninsula hoping to be evacuated by sea or air to the city of Pemba, and others are risking their lives to make the trip by sailing boats, as Palma remains too dangerous for many to consider returning there.

On Monday morning, three young men were found dead in the town of Palma, according to one source in the town. Locals believe they were killed by government forces who are combing the town for suspected insurgents, but who are being accused by the population of abuses. Zitamar sources said locals now fear the security forces as much as they feared the insurgents.

No significant help has yet arrived for the estimated 20,000 people sheltering in Quitunda, the resettlement village built by Total to house around 300 families that were forced to move from the LNG project site at Afungi. UN migration organisation IOM conducted a remote assessment this week — that is, an assessment without visiting the area — that concluded that 11,104 people across 1,452 households are staying in the village’s primary school.

The IOM concluded that the government is providing “some kind of assistance to displaced persons”, but that nevertheless, those staying there “are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.” Malaria is rife, and there is no health care facility there. The IOM estimated that 432 households are sleeping outdoors, though that number is likely to be much higher as the IOM's assessment only included those at the village school.

Some assistance came from Mozambique’s ruling party, Frelimo, whose Secretary General visited Palma on Sunday, 18 April. Roque Silva addressed a large rally intended to demonstrate that people had remained in or returned to the town. A person in Palma told Zitamar that the visit “was to give an image of a return to normality, but no one wants to stay in Palma.” Silva then went to Quitunda and made a donation of 20 tonnes of food.

Aside from being fed, people in Quitunda want to leave. Two boats arrived in Pemba on Tuesday, 20 April, with around 130 people on board, who had spent 10 days at sea. Another boat, said to be carrying 90 people, was stopped on the other side of Pemba bay, hoping for better conditions to reach the town today, Wednesday. The voyages appear to have been made in defiance of the provincial government prohibiting sailing along the coast of Cabo Delgado north of Pemba. Volatile weather conditions and a hard-to-navigate coastline also pose dangers for those escaping by sea. One boat sank while leaving the island of Quiramba for Pemba this week after it struck a rock; 12 people drowned.

Those left in Quitunda have few options. National airline LAM is not flying to either of the two airstrips in Palma, and private operators are charging $2,000 for a one way flight from Palma to Pemba. A barge run by a private operator may reach Afungi this week and leave for Pemba on Friday, Zitamar understands — with places on the boat highly sought after.

To compound the misery of those stuck on Afungi, the Mozambican meteorological institute today said the area could be hit by a cyclone this coming Saturday, 24 April — which would bring heavy rains and interrupt sea transport in the area.

This article was produced by Zitamar and Mediafax under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.