Terror, COVID-19, cholera: northern Mozambique is bleeding from many wounds

“ALMOST WEEKLY, NEW HORROR STORIES FROM MOZAMBIQUE reach Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Largely unnoticed by the international community, the country is suffering one humanitarian catastrophe after another,” reported Ulrich Kny, project officer for the country in south-eastern Africa at ACN.

Since 2017, Mozambique has been the target of countless attacks by jihadists. The exact objectives pursued by the terrorists are not known; observers suggest a mix of economic, political. and religious interests. On March 10, the US government classified the group as an offshoot of ISIS and a global terrorist organization and imposed sanctions. Given the obscurity of the protagonists and their backers, however, these are unlikely to have much effect. According to US media, eyewitnesses report mass beheadings and unimaginable violence perpetrated against the civilian population.

While jihadist terrorism continues to eat away at the region along the Tanzanian border, thus further increasing refugee misery, the country is currently also being battered by the COVID pandemic. “While the first wave was comparatively mild, the number of infected persons has sky-rocketed since January. It is alarming how the number of deaths has escalated,” the project officer at ACN said. Moreover, cholera is also spreading due to the catastrophic hygienic conditions in the refugee camps, which have no access to clean water.

Kny had a conversation with Sister Aparecida Ramos Queiroz, who is responsible for coordinating the relief projects in the Diocese of Pemba in northern Mozambique. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from the northern parts of the country have found refuge in the capital of the province of Cabo Delgado and its surrounding communities. According to the UN, by late 2020 there were almost 670,000 displaced persons.

Attacks have been carried out in nine of the 17 districts of the province of Cabo Delgado. The violence is directed at the entire community, not just at Christians, reported Sister Aparecida. “Both Muslim and Christian institutions are being attacked. We Christians are not the primary target of the insurgents.”

However, the Church has suffered great losses through the violence, the sister continued. She said that several churches have been destroyed completely; six of the 23 parishes of the Diocese of Pemba are deserted; the situation is so unstable that most of the parish members have fled. Still, a woman religious and a young parochial vicar are still working in one of the abandoned villages of a parish to serve those people who are too poor even to flee.

Uprooted in Cabo Delgado

“In the meantime, the government has started to resettle the refugees from Pemba in other parts of the region. Many find shelter with other families, others in new refugee settlements,” Kny said. He explained that most of the priests and sisters who were based in the conflict areas fled together with the parishioners. “They are now trying to continue their pastoral work among the refugees from their parishes there, where they have taken shelter. The local Church workers are supporting them in their work as much as they can.”

ACN has granted $190,000 in emergency aid because, despite international relief efforts, there is an acute scarcity of food and many people are starving. “Thanks to this support, the priests and sisters are able to distribute food to the refugees,” Kny reported. Another project was initiated to provide psychosocial assistance to the refugees, most of whom are severely traumatized after experiencing unimaginable suffering in the terrorist attacks and through their forced displacement. By now, more than 120 pastoral workers and volunteers in Pemba have received psychological training.

ACN also provides subsistence aid for priests and women religious as well as funding for training courses for seminarians and prospective sisters, funding for expansion of Church infrastructure, for Church media work and other projects. Kny said, “The Church in Mozambique is an anchor of hope and charity in a sea of suffering and violence. That is why we have made this country a top priority. Any form of support helps to assuage the suffering of this oppressed and uprooted people.”

—Tobias Lehner