More than 5,000 people that fled the Palma attack by ISIL-linked jihadists have reached safety outside the northern Mozambican town a week after it was besieged, the UN said Wednesday, as thousands remained stranded.
The coastal town was raided by armed militants on March 24, ransacking buildings and beheading residents as thousands fled into the surrounding forest.
Dozens have been killed and many more are still missing in a coordinated attack seen as the biggest escalation of an Islamist insurgency that has battered Cabo Delgado province since 2017.
A small group of victims arrived by boat in neighbouring Tanzania.
A United Nations spokesman said so far 5,300 displaced people had been registered in different districts of Cabo Delgado province, home since 2017 to a simmering insurrection.
Residents with family in Palma anxiously scoured incoming survivors for familiar faces. They milled around the port’s barbed-wire walls and sat against nearby buildings, according to reports.
“We don’t know if our relatives are on the boats that are coming or not. But we are here, we are not losing hope,” Muza Momadi told AFP news agency as she waited for her mother and brother.
Since Tuesday more than 300 victims of the attack arrived in provincial capital Pemba by plane and boat, a senior humanitarian official based in Mozambique told Reuters news agency.
A boat carrying another 1,000 people, including some injured, was expected to arrive in Pemba late on Wednesday after its departure from a gas project site near Palma was delayed, three people briefed on the rescue operation said.
Palma is around 10 kilometres (six miles) away from a multi-billion-dollar liquified natural gas project (LNG) led by France’s Total and involving other international companies.
President Nyusi undisturbed
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday downplayed the latest attack as “not the biggest”, despite its unprecedented proximity to Africa’s single biggest investment project.
“Let us not lose focus, let us not be disturbed,” Nyusi told reporters at a public event in the capital Maputo.
“Lack of concentration is what our internal and external enemies want,” he added. “We have to… move forward.”
Meanwhile, Total had already suspended operations and evacuated some staff in late December after jihadists launched a series of raids near its compound.
Some survivors in bad condition
The Afungi peninsula has played host to thousands of displaced residents who made their way to the LNG site, seeking refuge and evacuation.
Many arrived hungry, dehydrated and “in shock” after hiding in the bush for days, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
“We hear repeatedly that all they want to do is leave,” MSF emergency coordinator Sylvie Kaczmarczyk said in a statement.
Some bore life-threatening injuries.
“We have cared for one baby with a bullet wound,” said Kaczmarczyk.
Pregnant women were arriving in “terrible condition”, she added, while others clutched newly-born babies delivered in the bush.
Around 1,400 people, including both gas and government workers, were ferried from Afungi to Pemba on Sunday.
The most vulnerable escapees, including unaccompanied and injured children, have been flow into the city by the UN.
Hundreds of others used their own means, streaming into surrounding districts on fishing boats, buses and on foot.
Reports say despite the rescue, thousands of people remain stranded, raising concern among aid organisations providing humanitarian assistance.
NEWS/PHOTO SOURCE: Al Jazeera | AFP