UN 'alarmed' by Tanzania return of fleeing Mozambicans

Jihadists swooped on the coastal town on March 24. The attack marked a major intensification in an insurgency that has wreaked havoc across northeastern Cabo Delgado province for over three years as the militants seek to establish a caliphate.

In this file photo taken on April 02, 2021 A woman rests with her baby on the ground at the Pemba Sports center that is now a shelter in Pemba. On March 24, 2021 armed groups terrorised the port in the poor but gas-rich Cabo Delgado region, killing at least dozens of people.  Picture: Alfredo Zuniga / AFP.

GENEVA - The United Nations said Tuesday it was alarmed by reports that Tanzania has been forcibly returning people fleeing unrest in neighbouring Mozambique.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, upheld the right to cross borders to seek asylum and said conditions at the frontier village of Negomano in Mozambique were "dire".

"UNHCR and partners have received worrying reports, including direct testimonies, that several thousand Mozambicans have been pushed back from Tanzania into northern Mozambique since last year," spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva.

"This includes reports of over 1,500 returned this month."

He said an April mission to Negomano found that most Mozambicans sheltering there had hoped to find refuge in Tanzania after fleeing deadly attacks by non-state armed groups in Palma in March.

Jihadists swooped on the coastal town on 24 March. The attack marked a major intensification in an insurgency that has wreaked havoc across northeastern Cabo Delgado province for over three years as the militants seek to establish a caliphate.

"UNHCR is alarmed at reports that Mozambicans have been... forcibly returned, and prevented from seeking asylum," Cheshirkov said.

"We call on all parties to allow free movement of civilians fleeing violence and conflict, in search of international protection, safety and assistance, including to respect and fully uphold the right to cross international borders to seek asylum."

He said that in Negomano, many people told the UNHCR they had been detained in Tanzania, taken to a local school and interrogated by officials.

Those without proof of Tanzanian nationality were returned to Mozambique.

"The situation is particularly desperate for single mothers, now staying in Negomano without family support," said Cheshirkov.

"The conditions at Negomano are dire and needs are acute for food, water and sanitation, and health services, but only limited humanitarian assistance is reaching the remote area."

The refugee agency and its partners have been providing protection and basic assistance to 50,000 people in northern Mozambique since last year and plan to assist an additional 250,000 people by the end of 2021, the spokesperson said.

The agency counts 724,000 people who have been forcibly displaced since the unrest started in Cabo Delgado in October 2017.

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