The growing number of Mozambican refugees in Malawi has prompted a significant international response over the past week from relief agencies and the media. The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, has been joined by the World Food Programme, UNICEF and Medecins Sans Frontieres to provide basic food and medical care for the more than 2,000 people who say they are victims of Mozambique government aggression in Tete province.
The refugees say they are fleeing government forces who are attacking villages believed to be harbouring members of opposition Renamo, according to UNHCR spokesperson Karen de Gruijl, speaking in Geneva on Friday 15 January. Some women told a UNHCR protection officer how their homes were burned down with one grandmother left inside to die. Parents said they have been separated from their children during flight and they have not been able to find them.
The refugees’ accusations of Mozambique government aggression were repeated to a team of reporters from news agency AFP. “The soldiers came in government vehicles to burn houses and maize barns and accused us of sheltering Renamo soldiers,” farmer Omali Ibrahim, 47, told AFP at the Kapise refugee camp in Malawi’s southern district of Mwanza.
“We could’ve been killed by government soldiers if we hadn’t hidden in the bush for two days,” AFP reported Luciano Laitoni, 60, as saying, after he arrived at the camp with his wife and five children.
De Gruijl said that in 2015, the UNHCR and the government of Malawi registered around 700 Mozambican refugees and placed them with local communities as it was believed the situation would be temporary. In the past few weeks, however, increasing numbers of people have been crossing the border into Malawi.
So far, the UNHCR has recorded the arrival of 1,297 people, two thirds of them women and children, with over 900 people awaiting registration. Another 400 new arrivals have been reported in 16 villages located further south in the district of Chikwawa, De Gruijl said.
Malaria is a major concern, she said, and the number of patients seen daily has increased from 70 to 250. With the looming fear of a cholera outbreak, MSF has drilled two boreholes and are planning on drilling third to improve the water supply. UNICEF is putting up temporary latrines and washrooms to avert health disasters.