Mozambique, on the southeast coast of Africa, gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Conflict marred much of the country’s recent history, first during a protracted liberation struggle, followed by a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. Tension between the ruling Frelimo party and its opposition, the former rebel movement Renamo, has remained high. Clashes between government forces and armed elements of Renamo contribute to the flow of refugees from Mozambique to neighboring countries.
Here are 10 facts about Mozambique refugees:
- Mozambique has a history of a massive displacement of people. By 1992, 1.5 million Mozambicans fled the country due to the civil war, representing 10% of the population at that time.
- Mozambicans fled to neighboring Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Most of the refugees returned to Mozambique after the end of the war in 1992.
- Recently there has been an increase in the number of people fleeing Mozambique. Since 2015, 12,000 Mozambicans have fled from violence in their communities due to the longstanding conflict between Frelimo and Renamo. Tensions between the two parties have risen in the run-up to the 2014 Presidential election, and have only continued to escalate since then.
- Mozambicans are fleeing several forms of political violence reportedly perpetrated by government and opposition forces. A recent Freedom House report shows that Mozambicans are fleeing due to the perception that government and opposition forces are targeting them. This includes killings, assaults and the burning of homes, intended to create fear and punish sympathizers.
- For many Mozambique refugees, Kapise village in Malawi is the first port of call. At the peak of the current refugee crisis in March 2016, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) recorded 250 people crossing the border from Mozambique to Kapise village every day. At this time, the makeshift camp at Kapise housed 6,000 Mozambicans in conditions that Doctors Without Borders classified as well below minimum humanitarian standards. The refugees have to compete for scarce resources with the 150 Malawian families already living in the village. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and Doctors Without Borders provided essential services in Kapise, such as water boreholes, food and healthcare. This has helped improve life in Kapise but conditions remain tough.
- In March 2016, Malawi reopened the Luwani Refugee Camp to house the influx of Mozambicans. Luwani Refugee Camp previously housed Mozambique refugees from 1977 to 1992 during the civil war and was finally closed in 2007. The Malawian government authorized UNHCR to reopen Luwani Camp and move Mozambique refugees there from Kapise village. Refugees have access to better facilities and services including healthcare, education, sanitation, security and self-sustaining activities like agriculture.
- Mozambique refugees are not the only Africans seeking asylum in Malawi. Dzaleka camp in Malawi is already hosting some 25,000 refugees from other African regions including the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region.
- Some 3,000 Mozambicans also fled to Zimbabwe in 2015 and 2016. Many of the refugees that fled to Zimbabwe are living in makeshift camps and face severe food shortages. WFP classifies Zimbabwe as a low-income food-deficit country with 30% of the rural poor considered “food poor.” Zimbabwe and Malawi are both currently suffering the effects of a prolonged El Niño-induced drought. Mozambique refugees thus place an additional burden on already limited resources in these countries.
- Mozambique refugees in Malawi and Zimbabwe are largely dependent on food assistance from the WFP. The WFP works to achieve and maintain food security among refugees in the region through monthly food distributions in refugee camps. The WFP, however, has had to cut food rations since 2014 due to funding shortages.
- Mozambique itself is a destination for other African refugees. Mozambique currently hosts some 15,000 refugees originating from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Somalia. The majority of these people live in Maratane camp in the north of the country.
Frelimo and Renamo have engaged in mediated peace talks since mid-2016 and a ceasefire agreement was reached over Christmas and later extended to March 2017, which provides hope for a resolution to the instability in the country.
– Helena Jacobs