Internal displacement: overcoming challenges by helping others

Refugee camp in Africa Refugee camp in Africa © Photo by sadikgulec on iStock

Imagine receiving a call from your spouse and being told to take your three daughters and run away from your village due to an attack, with no clear destination in mind, walking for two days to reach the next town. This represents the ordinary life of most Mozambican internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, whose lives are disrupted from one day to another due to recurring attacks and violence by non-state armed groups since October 2017.

This episode of “Voices” focuses on the story of Maria, 31-year-old Mozambican, mother-of-three, who was forced to flee her village in Mocimboa the Praia, in northern Mozambique, in March 2020. Her journey included swimming with her three children, witnessing others not making it, walking for two days to reach the town of Quitunga, 15 kilometres south of Palma. Maria was luckier than other IDPs: she stayed with relatives and had a roof over her head and food. Only three days after her arrival, new shootings forced her and her children to leave by boat to reach Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, where nearly 700,000 people are displaced.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s support has been essential to provide protection services and relief items (sleeping mats, blankets, screening and identifying the most vulnerable). However, UNHCR works for communities, but also with communities. In this regard, Maria has volunteered to help the UN refugee agency to explain the importance of COVID-19 and cholera prevention measures to new arrivals. She does so by preparing water buckets for people to wash their hands and having focus groups and training sessions with IDPs, which makes a concrete impact on hygiene practices, “little by little”, as she claims. In parallel, her role also includes identifying survivors of gender-based violence and referring them to UNHCR for assistance.

To date, Maria still does not have any news of her husband, as all communications from Palma were completely cut off since March 2020. Her biggest hope is for her daughters to finally resume school one day and have a chance to choose their future.




Author: Barbara Caltabiano

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