MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Mozambique, conflict

Mozambique: “It was like the end of the world” – Thousands caught in crossfire

  • Thousands have fled for their lives due to extremely violent attacks on numerous towns across Cabo Delgado Province.
  • Primary needs are going unmet, aggravated by the extreme challenges that aid organisations face to access areas of the north of Mozambique.
  • Our teams on the ground are providing water and sanitation to nearly 50,000 displaced people in Pemba and Metuge.
  • Our teams are assessing the urgent needs of other displaced groups in the area.

Reliving the attack

The number of displaced people is growing in Cabo Delgado. In February, at least 200,000 people were displaced due to the conflict. Since numerous attacks on villages across the region have uprooted thousands more from their homes. Armed groups are waging attacks in this complex, resource-rich region. Today, the north of Mozambique is the epicentre of social and economic tensions, resulting in devastating consequences on the population.

During the insurgent attack on 28 May 2020, four MSF staff members were working at the Health Center in Macomia just before it was ransacked and burned. That day, twenty-seven MSF staff living in Macomia fled with the population, dodging stray bullets as the combat intensified around them. No MSF personnel were killed during this incident, however, the trauma they lived is very real.  

All roads were blocked in and out of Macomia as insurgents entered the village. The only way to escape the erupting violence was to flee into the bush.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Mozambique, conflict
People standing outside of makeshift shelters. Over 25,000 internally displaced people are stranded in Metuge, a town in Cabo Delgado Province, northern Mozambique.  ​​​​© MSF

An MSF staff member describes the horror of being caught in the crossfire on 28 May.  

“The only way to escape was through the bushes at the back of the hospital. I ran from the area when I heard shooting around Macomia. 

The entire town was running towards the bush.

We were at least a thousand people – men, women, elderly, children, the sick and their caregivers – all running away from the sounds of shooting. It was like the end of the world.

People were running through thick forest – areas where no human had gone before.  This was wild bush with a lot of thorns. People were thirsty and hungry, there was no water in that area –  just stone and hills.

People were trying to stop and rest, but the helicopters were flying very close.

The road to Licangano wasn’t easy – there were numerous hills. It was up and down. Many old people, sick people, and kids could not manage to jump over the obstacles or to climb the steep cliffs.  Many kids were lost in the panic…

MSF Staff Member

I saw a woman with a baby trying to get down the hill. She could not manage without help, so she left her baby above and lowered herself over the ledge. At that moment, heavy shooting started nearby. The woman was yelling for help – pleading for someone to pass her baby to her. No one could help her.

People were running…terrified.”

Following the attack on May 28, no official report provided the number of civilian casualties and wounded.  MSF has received unverified reports of at least 15 dead, including multiple children, some due to starvation as they hid in the bush for days to escape the fighting.  MSF did not have access to the area immediately after the attack.  

Some of our staff were allowed back to survey the damage and begin reducing MSF’s presence, following the decision to suspend operations in Macomia due to the heightened security risks. 

Crippling Access to Health Care

After Cyclone Kenneth ripped through the north of Mozambique in April 2019, MSF helped rebuild and renovate the Macomia Health Center and Medical Lab. During the May 28 attack, that lab and health centre were completely destroyed.  

MSf, Doctors Without Borders, Mozambique, conflict
During the May 28 insurgent attack, the lab and health centre that MSF supported were pillaged and burned. © MSF

The Macomia Health Center provided vital medical services for the entire town of over 29,000 people.  MSF provided support in the form of human resources: 27 people including nurses, a pharmacist, water sanitation and hygiene teams, drivers and guards. 

Amidst an ongoing violent conflict, little access to health care and poor living conditions continue to worsen the daily struggle of thousands of Mozambicans in the north.  

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Mozambique, conflict
Macomia Health Center where MSF provided support. (This facility was later pillaged and burned during an insurgent attack on 28 May). © MSF

Our commitment: supporting people who have been forcibly displaced

MSF is committed to supporting people who have been displaced throughout the Cabo Delgado Province. Our role is clear – to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to the people that need it most. To do so, MSF must guarantee a minimum amount of security for its medical teams, patients and the facilities that it works in.  

It’s the most vulnerable people who will needlessly suffer the most – and we will do everything we can to lessen that suffering for the people who are victims of this ongoing conflict.