Islamic insurgency in Mozambique threatens region, Catholic charity says

Islamic insurgency in Mozambique threatens region, Catholic charity says

In this handout photo provided by the World Food Program on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, a woman collects a monthly food parcel in Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. The WFP says the escalating extremist insurgency in northern Mozambique has displaced 310,000 people, creating an urgent humanitarian crisis. (Credit: Falume Bachir/World Food Program via AP.)

All of Southern Africa is at risk if the Islamic insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique isn’t dealt with, a local Catholic charity says.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – All of Southern Africa is at risk if the Islamic insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique isn’t dealt with, a local Catholic charity says.

In the latest attack in the oil-rich region, more than 50 people were reported beheaded in the town of Muatide by militants who had captured the town.

The northernmost region of Mozambique, on the border with Tanzania, Cabo Delgado has been suffering from three years of conflict, which has displaced at least 310,000 people.

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“Violence in the region is continuous. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen beheadings, although prior to this it has been on a smaller scale,” said Joseanair Hermes, who works for Catholic Relief Services, the development arm of the U.S. bishops conference.

Hermes is the program manager for Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado.

“There is a lot we don’t know about the insurgents, including their ultimate goal and their capabilities. But from what they have demonstrated in Mozambique, we know that they have a great capacity for violence,” he told Crux.

Cabo Delgado is also still recovering from Cyclone Kenneth, which hit Mozambique in April 2019. The resulting flooding led to outbreaks of cholera and malaria.

“The humanitarian situation is already greatly impacted by this armed conflict. Many people have fled the violence, sometimes walking for six days to reach a safe location. Many older and weaker family members could not run or walk and so were left behind by their families,” Hermes said.

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“The conflict makes it impossible to get humanitarian assistance to the northern regions of Cabo Delgado. Humanitarian organizations are unable to get even basic items like food to people affected in those areas,” he added.

Hermes said CRS is working closely with the local Caritas to provide food assistance and other help to the people displaced by the conflict.

“The challenge is that the needs are so high, and our funds are very limited,” he said.

What follows are excerpts of Crux’s conversation with Hermes.

Crux: When was your reaction to the latest massacre in Cabo Delgado?

Hermes: We mourn for the lives lost. Violence in the region is continuous. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen beheadings, although prior to this it has been on a smaller scale.

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This instance is particularly shocking because of the number of people killed, and also because the majority of those killed were innocent children between the ages of 12 to 15 who likely didn’t even understand the reasons for the conflict.

What does the latest attack mean for the larger security situation in Mozambique?

Insecurity in Mozambique is a grave issue and we’re already seeing an impact across Southern Africa. In recent weeks, we heard news that insurgents advanced to Tanzania and killed people in the border region. There is a lot we don’t know about the insurgents, including their ultimate goal and their capabilities. But from what they have demonstrated in Mozambique, we know that they have a great capacity for violence.

What is the humanitarian situation in the province?

The humanitarian situation is already greatly impacted by this armed conflict. Many people have fled the violence, sometimes walking for six days to reach a safe location. Many older and weaker family members could not run or walk and so were left behind by their families. The conflict makes it impossible to get humanitarian assistance to the northern regions of Cabo Delgado. Humanitarian organizations are unable to get even basic items like food to people affected in those areas. Another challenge we are seeing is that the growing needs of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are far beyond the funding availability of the current humanitarian response. With about 400,000 IDPs from Cabo Delgado currently in need of assistance, this is a humanitarian crisis that we fear will only worsen.

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The situation is particularly dire because the host communities to which IDPs are fleeing are in large part survivors of the recent cyclones and not yet fully recovered themselves. Additionally, the overcrowding of the southern “safe” areas is also a public health concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How involved has CRS been in the region?

The people most affected by the insurgency were already extremely vulnerable. The conflict further increased their needs. CRS is working closely with Caritas to provide food assistance to the displaced people and also support to construct safe shelters, rehabilitation of water sources and distribution of basic materials for hygiene and sanitation to prevent disease. The challenge is that the needs are so high, and our funds are very limited.

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