After spending days hiding in the jungle, more than 1,000 survivors of a deadly attack on the town of Palma in northern Mozambique have safely arrived at the port of Pemba by ferry.
On Thursday, humanitarian workers were at the crowded port in Cabo Delgado’s capital to distribute food to displaced people disembarking from the green-and-white ferry. Crowds of people anxious to see relatives were kept under control by police and troops, while others remained despondent in the absence of news.
Mariamo Tagir, who arrived on the ferry, expressed her sadness, saying she had spent seven days in the jungle, crying every day. “I have no idea where my son is… it’s very painful,” Tagir told Reuters. “The situation is dire; many people have died.”
A woman with a blank stare sat on the ground at the port, one hand gripping a fence, waiting for her son in a blue denim pinafore and pink face mask. According to the AFP news agency, another woman consoled her as she sobbed.
The government of Mozambique has reported the deaths of hundreds of “defenseless” civilians in a raid on Palma on March 24. The raid marked a drastic escalation of an armed campaign that has wreaked havoc in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado since 2017.
According to UN figures, Palma is home to 110,000 people, including 40,000 internally displaced people who have settled there after fleeing attacks by ISIL-linked fighters elsewhere. A number of multibillion-dollar natural gas projects are planned in the region surrounding the town.
A UN migration agency tracker showed that more than 8,100 people had been displaced as of Wednesday afternoon, with nearly half of them being children. Around 20% had arrived in Pemba, with the remainder settling in the Cabo Delgado districts of Mueda, Montepuez, and Nangade.
However, the exact number of people killed and displaced is unknown. After the attack, most modes of communication were disrupted.
Aid organizations estimate that tens of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the attack. Hundreds of people, including many foreign employees, have been flown out.
Juliana Ghazi of the UN Refugee Agency told AFP that there is “no feeling of normalcy returning.”