‘Do not abandon Mozambique’: Catholics appeal for help amid jihadist attacks

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Flag of mozambique in the world map. / hyotographics/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Jul 21, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Islamist terrorism threatens the future of Mozambique, according to a Catholic community aiding hundreds of thousands of refugees driven out by attacks.

“Do not abandon the people of Mozambique,” Fr. Angelo Romano urged at a press conference in Rome on July 21.

“The future prospects of the country are in fact now in danger because of the terrorist onslaught that began in 2017 that is endangering peace throughout the country,” he said.

The priest is a member of the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, a group that has been active in Mozambique for more than three decades and helped broker a peace agreement in the country in Southeastern Africa in 1992.

Nine members of Sant’Egidio have been killed in Islamist attacks in Mozambique since 2019.

Recent attacks in northern Mozambique have been carried out by the homegrown Ansar al-Sunna group, which the U.S. State Department recently labeled as “ISIS-Mozambique.”

Multiple churches have been burnt, people beheaded, young girls kidnapped, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence.

“The Islamist guerrillas have set as their goal the creation of an Islamic state. And it has started in the north, but … they want to conquer the whole country,” Fr. Romano said.

“In the province called Cabo Delgado, the goal is to destroy the existing social fabric in order to be able to then rebuild it according to their designs.”

Nearly 800,000 people have been displaced by the violence in Mozambique, according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency.

“In recent months, Sant’Egidio has tried to cope with the growing demand of internally displaced persons,” Romano explained.

The community, which is present in every province of Mozambique, has been distributing food and medicine to these internally displaced persons, only about 10% of which are in government refugee camps, according to the priest.

“The overwhelming majority of internally displaced persons are welcomed by the population itself, often by relatives, but in other cases by people who have decided to give their support to these, their brothers in difficulty,” he said.

Fr. Romano praised the Mozambican people for showing “great solidarity” with those affected by the violence. But he said that there were issues emerging because most of the displaced are not registered.

He noted that the Catholic community is particularly concerned about the disruption of education for the children displaced by the violence because unregistered internal refugees cannot go to school or access state services.

“We have many projects underway that we would like to carry out such as the one for the construction of some schools,” the priest said.

The Catholic group already has a program in place to register minors in Mozambique.

“We would also like to create scholarships for high school students who are present in refugee camps today and who have had to interrupt their studies,” he said.

The most recent religious freedom report from Aid to the Church in Need documented a “dramatic increase” in the presence of jihadist groups, some aligned with the Islamic State, in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Both Rwanda and South Africa announced last week that they would deploy troops to the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique to help the country combat the escalating insurgency.

“An awareness of the gravity of the situation is needed,” Romano said.

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