Endless emergency in Cabo Delgado. In the crisis in Mozambique the help of the Community of Sant'Egidio

an article in L'Osservatore Romano

When we talk about refugees or displaced people, we never realize that most of them are children and women. This is also what is happening in the forgotten humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado, the northern province of Mozambique targeted by jihadist terrorist attacks since 2017. Official figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) count 732 thousand people forced by violence to leave their homes, of which about half, 335 thousand, are children. With women it comes to 70% of the total.

Since the beginning of the crisis there have been at least two thousand five hundred victims of bloody violence. Thousands of families have sought refuge in the provinces of Nampula, Niassa and Zambézia. They flee in fear without documents, with few belongings, and take refuge with friends and relatives, or camp in desperate conditions on the border with Tanzania: they spend the nights in the open in an extremely cold climate, without shelter or blankets.

Only 10 percent of IDPs manage to receive humanitarian aid in equipped camps run by international organizations, partly because UNHCR is unable to gain access to some areas. "Despite the efforts of the authorities and the humanitarian community - reports the UN agency - the needs of the displaced considerably exceed the capacity of assistance available from the government and humanitarian agencies." A few days ago a boat overloaded with food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) has even capsized, causing twelve victims, between the coastal town of Pemba and the island of Ibo, which since the beginning of the crisis has received about 30 thousand displaced persons.

For the others, there is only a solidarity mobilization by parishes, missionaries, associations and realities of different confessions and religions, at least to distribute food and essential goods. Aid is also arriving by sailboat, by sea and river, because the roads are impassable or dangerous. But it is still a small drop in the ocean compared to the enormous needs of the population.

The President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has also contributed to alleviate the suffering of displaced people, announcing the decision to donate to Caritas Mozambique and NGOs involved in humanitarian aid thirty thousand euros of a prize received this year. Cabo Delgado is one of the richest areas in terms of gas deposits and mineral resources, exploited by large multinational companies, while the population is deprived of social and health services and does not benefit at all: on the contrary, it is one of the poorest and most depressed territories in Mozambique. On this situation, an extremist strategy has found fertile ground and encouraged rebellion, aimed at controlling territory and wealth in a violent manner. Villages were attacked and set on fire, night shootings, kidnapping of children and women, forced recruitment of young people. Don Kwiriwi Fonseca, head of communication of the diocese of Pemba, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACS) of hundreds of abductions: "Terrorists use these children and train them by force to fight in their troops, while girls are raped and forced to become their 'brides'". According to Save the Children, in the last two months at least 51 minors have been kidnapped, most of them girls. Many remain orphans and witness dramatic scenes.

An appeal "not to forget the people of Mozambique" was launched in recent days by the Community of Sant'Egidio, historically linked to Mozambique since the eighties and is present in 140 cities and villages, including the province of Cabo Delgado. It has been active for years with the Dream program for the treatment of AIDS and lately also for other initiatives for anticovid diagnostics. Even many members of the community have had to leave their homes and take refuge in Mocimboa da Praia, Mbau, Muatide, Muidumbe, Lyautua. In Mbau during attacks on the village, eight Sant' Egidio members were killed between September and October 2018; another young man from the Community lost his life in June 2020 in the attack in Mocimboa da Praia. "In recent months we have tried to respond to the growing demand of internally displaced persons and distributed more than a hundred tons of food, but also masks, soap, clothes, blankets to 25 thousand people," said in a press conference don Angelo Romano, of the Community of Sant'Egidio: "More than a thousand people have been assisted to reunite with family members in safer areas, others to relocate in quieter areas, giving them a house and land to cultivate, with seeds and agricultural tools, to help them rebuild their lives independently."

Almost thirty years have passed since the signing of the Rome agreements, reached on October 4, 1992 thanks to the mediation of Sant'Egidio, which put an end to a long internal conflict with a million deaths and destruction everywhere. In the meantime, infrastructures have been rebuilt, life expectancy has increased and an entire generation has been born in peacetime. Ties with Italy are remarkable, and yet "Mozambique is absent from the political debate," Fr. Romano noted. Only Pope Francis has not ceased to recall the crisis in Cabo Delgado, with his Urbi et orbi Message on Christmas Day and in his address to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on Feb. 8. And in the country, the memory of his apostolic visit in 2019 that contributed to further steps toward internal stability is still alive. According to Fr. Romano, who cited the analyses and positions of southern African countries, "the jihadist threat does not only concern Cabo Delgado but all of Mozambique and could also extend to a regional level, as has happened in the Sahel." Certainly, he admits, "the motivations behind the start of the revolt in Cabo Delgado are both the creation of an Islamic state and control of resources. Certainly the clear perception of the population that they cannot benefit from the resources has played in favor of jihadism. There is widespread discontent among young people about injustice and exploitation, and jihadism has been able to use it. We are asking for everyone's support to be able to help the people of Cabo Delgado more," he concluded. In the coming months, the Community will increase the distribution of food, health and school kits, will provide displaced people with working tools and materials for the construction of houses. There are also plans to build schools in some of the larger camps and create scholarships for high school students. Fundraising is on the dedicated website (dona.santegidio.org).

[ Patrizia Caiffa ]
Translation by the editorial team