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Northern Mozambique: “One Humanitarian Catastrophe After Another”

ACN supports the refugee work of the Church with $240,000 in emergency aid as Northern Mozambique is hit with one crisis after another: terror, COVID and cholera

Subsistence aid for 26 sisters of 4 Religious congregations working in the diocese of Pemba, 2020.
Irmãs Pobres de Jesus Cristo, Fraternidade O Caminho, Mecúfi.

“Almost weekly, new horror stories from Mozambique reach Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Largely unnoticed by the international community, the country is suffering one humanitarian catastrophe after another,” explained Ulrich Kny, project officer for the country in south-eastern Africa at the international Catholic pastoral charity based in Königstein, Germany.

Since 2017, Mozambique has been the target of countless attacks by jihadists. The exact objectives pursued by the terrorist units are not known; observers suggest a mix of economic, political and religious interests. On March 10, the US government classified the group as an offshoot of the “Islamic State” (IS) and as a global terrorist organization and imposed sanctions. Given the obscurity of the protagonists and their backers, however, these are unlikely to have much effect. According to US media, eyewitnesses report mass beheadings and unimaginable violence against the civilian population.

Mozambique, 01.03.2020
Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Nangololo, Muambula, district of Muidumbe.

While jihadist terrorism continues to eat away at the region along the Tanzanian border, thus further increasing refugee misery, the country is currently also being battered by the COVID pandemic. “While the first wave was comparatively mild, the number of infected persons has skyrocketed since January. It is alarming how the number of deaths has escalated,” the project officer at ACN said. Moreover, cholera is also spreading due to the catastrophic hygienic conditions in the refugee camps, which have no access to clean water.

The Diocese of Xai-Xai working to distribute food to the poor in the time of corona virus. Subsistence aid for 40 priests serving the diocese. (food packages not financed by ACN )

More Than 600,000 People on the Run

Kny reported on a conversation he held with religious Sister Aparecida Ramos Queiroz, who is responsible for coordinating the relief projects in the diocese of Pemba in northern Mozambique. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the northern parts of the country have found refuge in the capital of the province of Cabo Delgado and its surrounding communities. According to the UN, by late 2020 there were almost 670,000 displaced persons.

People are fleeing violence in Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique:
A group of internally displaced persons, mostly women and children, are fleeing the areas where Daesh-affiliated terrorist groups operate. Many taking refuge in the city of Pemba. The Church seeks to give them material assistance and spiritual comfort.

Attacks have been carried out in nine of the 17 districts of the province of Cabo Delgado. The violence is directed at the entire community, not just at Christians, reported Sister Aparecida. “Both Muslim and Christian institutions are being attacked. We Christians are not the primary target of the insurgents.”

However, the Church has suffered great losses through the violence, the Sister stated, saying several churches have been completely destroyed; six of the 23 parishes of the diocese of Pemba are deserted—the situation is so unstable that most of the parish members have fled. In spite of this, a religious and a young parochial vicar are still working in one of the abandoned villages of the parish to serve the people who are too poor even to flee.

Fresh massacres by jihadists – number of refugees is growing daily in Cabo Delgado: Refugees after recent attacks in Cabo Deldado province

Priests and Religious Care for Refugees

“In the meantime, the government has started to resettle the refugees from Pemba to other parts of the region. Many find shelter with other families, others in new refugee settlements,” Ulrich Kny described the situation. He then explained that most of the priests and religious Sisters fled the conflict areas along with the members of their parishes. “They are now trying to continue their pastoral work among the refugees from their parishes there, where they have taken shelter. The local Church workers are supporting them in their work as much as they can.”

Ulrich Kny, head of section for Africa at the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

ACN has granted $240,000 in emergency aid to support the people of Northern Mozambique because, despite international relief efforts, there is an acute scarcity of food and many people are starving. “Thanks to this support, the priests and religious sisters are able to distribute food to the refugees,” Kny reported. Another project was initiated to provide psychosocial assistance to refugees, most of whom are severely traumatized after experiencing unimaginable suffering through terror attacks and forced displacement. By now, more than 120 pastoral workers and volunteers in Pemba have received psychological training.

Pastoral and psycho-social support of the displaced families in Cabo Delgado.

ACN also provides subsistence aid for priests and religious as well as funding for training for seminarians and prospective Sisters, funding for the expansion of Church infrastructures, for religious media work and other projects. Kny explained, “The Church in Mozambique is an anchor of hope and charity in a sea of suffering and violence. That is why we have made this country a top priority. Any form of support helps to assuage the suffering of this oppressed and uprooted people.”

Cover image: Mozambique, Cabo Delgado, March 2021
War displaced people of Cabo Delgado. Distribution of food in the Corrane’s resettlement, 50 km from the city of Nampula.
Update, April 8, 2021: The army has recaptured the city of Palma, which had been in jihadist hands since March.

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