Alfredo ZUNIGA / AFP

Mozambique can learn from other African countries about hosting IDPs

Assisting internally displaced people is crucial for humanitarian and security reasons, but the government has no plan to support them.

Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado insurgency has displaced over a million people nationwide since it began in 2017. Some have returned home, but over 700 000 remain displaced.

Pemba, the capital of the terrorism-affected Cabo Delgado province, hosts the largest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the country – around 132 000. By March 2022, at the peak of the attacks, the number of IDPs in Pemba reached 152 000. The influx has nearly doubled the city’s population, straining infrastructure and public services such as health and education, and creating potential for resource conflicts.

Top three districts in Mozambique for IDPs and returnees
Political violence in Ethiopia by regions, 2018-2024

Source: Data - International Organisation for Migration, map - ISS

Addressing these displaced populations' needs is crucial for humanitarian and security reasons, but the government has no plan to support them. This is despite Mozambique’s long and bitter history of conflict and displacement – which should have provided lessons. The 1976-92 civil war displaced around seven million people nationwide, causing chaotic urbanisation, unemployment and crime, which still affects the country’s urban areas.

United Nations and other international humanitarian agencies shoulder the responsibility for providing all essential goods and services to IDPs across Mozambique.

Many IDPs have limited access to food, shelter, water and sanitation, health and education. They struggle to find work and are at heightened risk of disease outbreaks and gender-based violence. In Pemba, the number of unemployed youth and beggars (children and elderly people) is growing, and girls are involved in sex work. These hardships make IDPs vulnerable to radicalisation by extremist groups, who exploit their grievances and marginalisation with offers of security and sustenance.

International humanitarian agencies shoulder the responsibility for humanitarian support and services to IDPs

In May, the Strong Cities Network hosted a workshop in Tanzania on scaling up city-led actions to prevent hate, extremism and polarisation in Southern and East Africa. Local government officials from both regions discussed good practices on creating IDP-friendly cities, reducing clashes stemming from resource disputes, and enhancing resilience to violent extremism. The event emphasised the importance of addressing tensions brought on by displacement and the value of drawing on comparative experiences.

From 1986-2008, Uganda’s significant internal displacement due to Lord’s Resistance Army attacks affected around 1.8 million people. Decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has resulted in 6.9 million people currently displaced. Many have fled to neighbouring Uganda, which as of April 2024, hosts about 1.62 million refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from the DRC.

Although the scale of the problem in Mozambique is smaller, the humanitarian crisis has affected more than 1.7 million people in northern Mozambique, including IDPs and host communities.

During the Strong Cities Network event, Mahmoud Noor, founder of Swahilipot Hub Foundation, which supports the Kenyan city of Mombasa, explained how the organisation trained young people to seize job opportunities. Noor said the foundation’s youth training was based on employers’ needs. Swahilipot works with employers to establish their needs and then trains young people to fill those gaps, facilitating their integration into the labour market.

In May, insurgents attacked humanitarian premises in Macomia, looting food supplies and kidnapping several workers

Mayor Wilson Sanya’s northern Ugandan town of Koboko hosts thousands of refugees from east DRC and South Sudan. He told delegates how the local municipality trained displaced people in English to facilitate integration into the local labour market, and regarded refugees as a workforce to help the city’s development.

In Pemba, there are several isolated vocational training initiatives for youth. But the training doesn’t ensure that the most vulnerable people are selected or that graduates meet the needs of local employers.

In a programme run by local government and funded by TotalEnergies, thousands of young people from Cabo Delgado have been trained in electricity, construction, locksmithing and mechanics. However, this training is also not based on an assessment of market needs or tied to local development and employment plans, so thousands of graduates remain jobless.

Mozambique’s IDP situation remains one of great vulnerability, especially in Cabo Delgado. IDPs are often excluded from safety and emergency assistance, and development initiatives. The mid-May attack on Macomia, which hosts the third largest number of IDPs in the province (see map), further worsened the situation. Violent extremists attacked humanitarian premises in the town, looting food supplies and kidnapping several humanitarian workers. As a result, the World Food Programme (WFP) suspended its operations in Macomia.

Unless the kidnapped workers are safely returned, humanitarian operations will falter, compounding critical gaps in health and education services. For example, Doctors Without Borders runs the four main hospitals in Cabo Delgado; if they were to pull back, would government or other humanitarian agencies step into the breach?

Managing IDPs is a central government issue that must be properly studied, resourced and addressed

IDPs in Cabo Delgado are already facing reduced support from the WFP. During the January-February food assistance cycle, WFP helped around 460 000 people in the province, a significant reduction from over 750 000 in the November-December 2023 cycle. By May, the number had shrunk to 136 371. Funding for the northern Mozambique emergency response is dwindling and current forecasts for 2024 show that WFP is facing a shortfall of 76% for its Mozambique operations.

Without a government plan for IDPs, their management is left to humanitarian agencies. These agencies coordinate thematic clusters such as protection (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), food security (WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization), health (World Health Organization), nutrition (UN Children’s Fund), and shelter (International Organization for Migration).

Mozambique’s government should learn from other African states that managing IDPs is a central government issue that must be properly studied, resourced and addressed. This responsibility cannot be handed over to humanitarian organisations whose operations could be abruptly interrupted by threats of violence, attacks or lack of funding.

Addressing the needs of IDPs requires political commitment and coordinated action to ensure integration, conflict reduction and resilience against violent extremism.

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