Clashes between Mozambique Government forces and the opposition Mozambican National Resistance, or RENAMO, have forced an increasing number of people to flee Mozambique and seek asylum in Malawi over the last few weeks, the United Nations refugee agency cautioned today.
In the village of Kapise, Mwanza district, some 100 kilometres south of Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, registration teams from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recorded the arrival of 1,297 people - two thirds of them women and children - with over 900 people awaiting registration. Another 400 new arrivals have been reported in 16 villages located further south in the district of Chikwawa.
The Mozambicans said they fled fighting between the opposition RENAMO and Government forces. Refugee women told a UNHCR protection officer how their homes were burned down with one grandmother left inside to die. They said Government forces were attacking villages believed to be harbouring opposition members. UNHCR has been unable to confirm the accuracy of these allegations, spokesperson Karin de Gruijl told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva.
UNHCR is working with the Government to coordinate the response to assist the newly arrived refugees. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) was providing food and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is already on the ground with a mobile clinic. Malaria is a major concern and the number of patients seen daily has increased from 70 to 250. With the looming fear of a cholera outbreak, MSF has been quick to drill two boreholes and are planning on drilling a third to improve the water supply, Ms. de Gruil added.
She went on to say that the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), is putting up temporary latrines and washrooms to avert health disasters, and has also provided two large tents where children can play and learn. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) plans to work on maternal health. The Government of Malawi is considering reopening Luwani refugee camp, which previously hosted refugees from Mozambique during the civil war (1977 -1992), when over a million Mozambican refugees fled to neighbouring Malawi.