Tens of thousands of people have fled the town of Palma in northern Mozambique following attacks late last month that killed dozens of people, the United Nations has said.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday that approximately 30,000 people fled Palma since the fighters linked to ISIL (ISIS) raided the coastal town on March 24.
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UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the agency was “deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of the rapid escalation of violence” in northern Mozambique, voicing particular concern about “the safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable among the displaced, including women and children”.
The raids late last month marked a significant intensification in violence that has wreaked havoc on Cabo Delgado province for more than three years as the fighters seek to establish a caliphate.
The violence pushed France’s Total to suspend work on a nearby multibillion-dollar gas project.
“Those who fled have faced significant barriers trying to reach safety both inside the country and while attempting to cross borders,” Baloch told reporters in Geneva.
Conflict in the region has “resulted in grave rights abuses, the disruption of critical services and severe impact on civilians, particularly children”, Baloch said.
Equally concerning, he said, was the separation of families.
“Hundreds of children have arrived traumatised and exhausted after being separated from their families. Many others have come with their mothers.”
Baloch said those escaping violence were arriving with “no belongings, often with health issues including injuries and severe malnutrition”.
Cabo Delgado has been battered by a bloody rebellion since 2017 by a group known locally as al-Shabab.
The violence has killed at least 2,600 people, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project, and the UNHCR says more than 700,000 have been displaced.