Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that the poor conditions in which refugees fleeing violence live in Cabo Delgado, in Mozambique, are “a perfect breeding ground for diseases such as cholera.”
The NGO denounces that, since 2017, almost 670,000 people have had to flee their homes due to violence between armed groups in this province.
Many of them are concentrated in the city of Montepuez and its surroundings, in conditions where “they lack everything” in the words of MSF’s medical coordinator, Patricia Postigo.
However, in order to reach this town, refugees fleeing the fighting in the north of Cabo Delgado province between
the armed group popularly known as Al Shabaab, as well as state forces and the mercenary company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) are responsible for violations of international humanitarian law.
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In their flight they first reach the provincial capital, Peoma, or the mountainous town of Mueda – under police control – a journey for which they must walk for four to ten days through the jungle “with nothing and no money”.
A journey that is sometimes followed by a return to their homes in the hope of recovering at least part of their possessions.
On the way through the jungle, they must feed themselves with whatever they can find – leaves, mangoes or pieces of manioc – or, in the luckiest cases, with whatever they can get in a village.
In addition, this route is strewn with corpses from other clashes or dead from hunger and thirst, according to the organization.
To complete the final stage that takes them to Montepuez, they must save money for days until they can raise the money to travel south in a van, a destination where they arrive “dehydrated and hungry”, as well as suffering from various diseases, including malaria among children.
To these conditions must be added the hygiene needs and mental health problems resulting from the journey and the trauma.
THE SITUATION IN MONTEPUEZ
The situation in the city is far from desirable at this time of pandemic, since where seven people used to live, now there are between 30 and 40, due to the fact that families are usually composed of between five and seven children.
Among these refugees are many women who had been abducted by insurgents.
According to MSF, at the beginning of the year, between 1,400 and 1,500 people per week were arriving in transit areas or in the two reception camps in the city, whose occupation has increased in two months from 3,000 people in each to approximately 10,000 in what the organization defines as “a kind of village” where each refugee builds an adobe house, a latrine and grows crops on a plot of land assigned to him or her.
Until they are given a plot of land – a process that takes weeks – and build their adobe house, they live in the open.
Due to the overcrowding and the rainy season, water conditions are “terrible”, which triggers fears of epidemics of diseases such as cholera, of which there has already been an outbreak.
However, aid workers fear not only for that, but also for the increase in cases of coronavirus, malaria and the high prevalence of HIV, which affects around 1 percent of Mozambique’s population. Because facilities are collapsing, fears about maternal and child health have also been raised.
Among MSF’s priorities are the provision of psychosocial support to the refugees, as well as the provision of basic relief kits with basic utensils, blankets or chlorine tablets.