Maputo — The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will provide over the next few days a further ten tonnes of food to the Maratane refugee centre in the northern Mozambican province of Nampula, following hunger-related deaths, notably among Ethiopian refugees.
A WFP mission visited the camp recently to assess the situation, and concluded that there is an urgent need to increase food aid for the refugees.
The reports of deaths at Maratane were sufficiently alarming for Deputy Foreign Minister Henrique Banze to visit the camp last week. He recognised that hunger and disease were among the factors causing the deaths - but stressed that refugees often arrived at Maratane in a severely weakened condition, because of the rigours of their journey from the Horn of Africa.
Furthermore, recent inflows of refugees had put food supplies under great stress. "For years the centre operated with a limited number of asylum seekers", said Mbanze, "but recently there has been a startling growth in the number of refugees".
Maratane also faces problems of poor sanitation and shortages of clean water. Nonetheless, Banze was encouraged by the expansion of the local health centre, which now offers emergency services and hospitalisation.
Banze said that most of the 32 people who died at Maratane since January had not sought assistance from the health centre. Only eight of the deaths took place at the health centre.
"You must continue to work to improve the management of the centre, so that all possible assistance can be given", Banze told the Maratane staff. "We are going to continue receiving more refugees and we must be prepared for this".
He urged the camp managers to ensure constant dialogue with the various groups of refugees, to ensure that the differences they brought from their home countries are not reflected in the camp.
The arrival of more asylum seekers, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia, is forced the camp to expand. A further 600 tents, provided by the Mozambique Red Cross are being erected.
The Maratane administrator, Francisco Cihale, told reporters there are now 14,487 refugees in the camp - but up until the end of last week, only 10,102 were receiving food aid.