Mozambique refugees accuse government troops of assaults

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/29/16, 10:55 am

Refugees fleeing the impact of ongoing political clashes in Mozambique are accusing government officials of violating their rights during searches for opposition fighters.

“What they’re telling us, which we have no way to verify, is their villages were attacked by government forces who thought they were harboring a sympathetic to [the opposition],” said Tina Ghelli, a spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Refugees said government troops have killed and sexually assaulted Mozambicans and and razed houses. Authorities denied the charges, saying the refugees are only in search of food aid.

“In Mozambique there is no war,” said Jorge Jasse, head of the local government in the border town of Zobue.

Ghelli said UN agencies in Mozambique are discussing  plans with local government to undertake a mission into the province of Tete to see what is really happening.

Mozambique’s political strife began in late 2014 after the opposition party, Renamo, refused to accept election results that led ruling party Frelimo to power. Frelimo has been in power since Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975.

Refugees from Mozambique’s province of Tete have been fleeing to Kapise village in neighboring Malawi since July. The number of refugees continues to increase since Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama pledged in December to take over six of Mozambique’s 11 provinces by March.

More than 3,000 Mozambicans, mostly women and children, have relocated to Malawi since mid-2015, according to UNHCR. Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp already holds more than 23,000 refugees. The UN projects Mozambican refugees will likely increase to between 5,000 and 6,000 by March.

“The situation is becoming dire,” Monique Ekoko, UNHCR representative for Malawi, said in a statement. “Many of the most vulnerable, including children, the chronically ill, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and the elderly are at the brink of malnutrition.”

In response, UN agencies are gearing up for the possibility of future crises and more refugees.

“We certainly hope this can be resolved,” Ghelli told me. “But we want to be ready in Malawi to receive people if necessary. We’re working on contingency plans in case the numbers do increase.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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