Maputo — The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged the Tanzanian authorities not to turn back Mozambicans fleeing over the border in the wake of the terrorist attack against the town of Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, on 24 March.
According to a UNHCR press release, teams from the agency in the Cabo Delgado provincial capital, Pemba, “have received worrying reports from displaced populations that over 1,000 people fleeing Mozambique and trying to enter Tanzania were not allowed to cross the border to seek asylum”.
“We are following up on these reports in Tanzania”, the release added. “UNHCR calls on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and asylum procedures for those escaping violence and seeking protection”.
Although it should be obvious that the Palma survivors are fleeing from violence and terrorism, the Tanzanian authorities have treated them as “illegal immigrants”.
This problem is recurrent. Last October Tanzania deported about 1,000 displaced Mozambicans at the Negomano border post. At the time, the Secretary of State for Cabo Delgado province, Armindo Ngunga, declared “these Mozambicans are being returned compulsively. This isn’t coordinated repatriation, it’s compulsion”.
Tanzanians certainly know what is happening in Cabo Delgado, for Tanzanian citizens living in Mtwara, some 85 kilometres north of Palma, have called on their government to evacuate any Tanzanian citizens caught up in the violence.
According to the German agency DW Africa, Mtwara residents who have relatives in Palma are worried because they have no idea whether they are alive or dead. The terrorists cut all phone communication on 24 March, and it has not yet been re-established.
Some people with relatives in Palma sought help from the Tanzanian police, who were less than helpful. One Mtwara resident, Rukia Ngomeke, said police had demanded that she send the names of her relatives to the immigration office for an investigation “into whether they went to Mozambique legally, or were hiding there”.
An Mtwara civil society activist, Mustafa Kuyumba, urged the Tanzanian government “to present a strategy and ensure that our brothers and sisters come back from Mozambique”.