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Thousands of refugees descend on Pemba — hungry, sick, and vulnerable

At least 7,402 displaced people arrived on 127 boats in Pemba from 16 to 23 October, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration

The population of Pemba, the capital of Mozambique’s insurgency-hit province of Cabo Delgado, has swelled by almost 50% since October 2017 with an influx of refugees from the conflict — with almost 7,500 arriving last week alone.

Most new arrivals come by boat, due to the danger of travelling by road in the coastal part of the province — and land on the beach in Paquitequete, one of Pemba’s most populous areas. Domestic and foreign aid agencies and volunteers are trying to accommodate the new arrivals, but some 200 are still on the beach with nowhere to go.

Wesso Chale - who is partially sighted - arrived last week with his wife and four children from the village of Pangane, and told volunteers they are staying on the beach until they work out where to go. He and his wife’s biggest concern, however, is for their eldest daughter, who was abducted by insurgents before the rest of the family fled to Pemba.

At the last census, in 2017, the population of Pemba stood at 200,000. Since then, 100,000 refugees are estimated to have arrived in the city, according to NGO the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) in a report published on 23 October.

At least 7,402 displaced people arrived on 127 boats in Pemba from 16 to 23 October, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration. Volunteers told Zitamar that 25 boats arrived on Saturday 17 October alone, each containing 35-50 people. A message from a collective of volunteer organisations on 22 October said a further 25 boats had arrived the previous day, with a total of 2,350 people. Still more arrived by overland routes.

The displaced people, who are mostly women and children, are coming from Quissanga, Macomia and Ibo districts, fleeing armed attacks, including on Matemo island, where many refugees had been staying.

Many of the displaced people arriving in Pemba are fatigued, dehydrated, hungry and suffering from various diseases, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said on 23 October. Many displaced people who have arrived have indicated to aid workers that they are planning to move to resettlement areas in other districts of the province — such as Montepuez, Chiure, Ancuabe or Metuge — or to stay with host communities in Pemba city.

In a report released on 25 October into the situation of refugees fleeing the Cabo Delgado conflict, Maputo-based think tank CIP said the majority of displaced people have found “shelter in the homes of welcoming relatives,” while a much smaller group are those in centres set up to house displaced people. “Thus the situation of the internally displaced people, in terms of access to basic resources for survival, and vulnerability to abuses by the authorities, should always be analysed in this context of two separate groups who have sought shelter in different places,” CIP said.

Abdala Ndane is another displaced person who remains stuck on Paquitequete’s beach — having fled, alone, from Qiuterajo to Pangane, and from there to the island of Makalowe, then Matemo island, and finally Pemba. "I'm tired of fleeing and I don’t know where else to go," she told volunteers in Paquitequete.

UNOCHA said the main needs of the people arriving are clean water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, health, and protection, especially for women and children.

According to CIP, there have been cases of local authority figures demanding sexual favours from displaced women and girls, in return for putting them on lists to receive humanitarian aid.

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