23 February 2024, The Tablet

Islamist attacks drive famine, warns Mozambican bishop

Pope Francis has condemned “violence against defenceless populations, the destruction of infrastructure, and widespread insecurity”.

Islamist attacks drive famine, warns Mozambican bishop

Refugees in Pemba in 2021, following a previous outbreak of Islamist violence in the Cabo Delgado region.
Associated Press / Alamy

A Catholic bishop in northern Mozambique has warned that the crisis caused by an Islamic insurgency in the region, centred on the province of Cabo Delgado, could become a serious humanitarian disaster, as the threat of disease and famine looms.

Tens of thousands of people fled remote towns and villages which have come under attack over the past few weeks, seeking refuge in the relative safety of larger cities, including the provincial capital Pemba.

“They carry only what they can, in a bundle on their heads, or on the family bicycle – that’s all they have left. Hunger, thirst and disease will soon follow,” said the Bishop of Pemba António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo, in a message sent to pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned “violence against defenceless populations, the destruction of infrastructure, and widespread insecurity” in the region.

Church-run agencies, including Caritas, are trying to address the exodus and provide safe shelter for those fleeing the insurgents, but funding is scarce.

According to Betinha Ribeiro, project coordinator for Caritas in Pemba, at least €200,000 would be needed to adequately care for the displaced. “We have helped in the past, and people automatically come to us for aid, but at the moment our hands are tied. We don’t have the money,” she told ACN Portugal.

Mozambique is a mostly Christian country, but the far north, which borders Tanzania, is majority Muslim. The two communities have traditionally lived together without conflict, but in 2017 a group professing allegiance to the Islamic State began an insurgency that has resulted in at least five thousand killed and one million internally displaced.

Several of the attacks have specifically targeted Christians, including an Italian nun who was murdered during an attack on a mission in 2022.

With the conflict worsening, Bishop Juliasse expressed his concern for those left homeless because of the violence, saying that “their greatest risk is to become forgotten faces, drowned out by the other wars in the world. We cannot just sit by and do nothing.”

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