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Mozambique: Thousands of refugees flee to Pemba amid extremist threat

A fisherman balances a crate of fishes on his head on December 9, 2020 outside on the coast of the Paquitequete district of Pemba where internal displaced people are fleeing   -  
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The port of Pemba in northern Mozambique is known for its wide bay but rather than hosting tourists it has become home to thousands of refugees who have fled Islamic extremists.

Boatloads of people have fled their homes over the last few months after they fell to Al-Shabab gunmen who claim allegiance to the Islamic State group.

They seized coastal zones with natural gas installations and have begun to push to the inland districts of Cabo Delgado.

In October, the violent rebellion entered its fourth year and has reportedly killed more than 2,400 people and displaced half a million, according to the government.

Their villages were torched, many men killed and many young women kidnapped.

Building a new life

Many settlers are using their skills to build a new life in Pemba.

Suleimane Saide, 49, arrived three months ago and now works as a carpenter to feed his family, sculpting long fishing boats that line local beaches.

"They attacked my village and took my daughter. I came to Pemba and was welcomed by a family here," he told AFP.

"I still haven't forgotten what happened. I do not sleep. My head hurts. I think they should stop this war."

Other refugees try to earn money by buying essential goods in bulk and selling them for a small profit.

"When I fled to Metuge I had a little bit of money, instead of wasting that money I opened a small business selling tomatoes," said Nguila Samuel a displaced person from Quissanga.

"I'm investing half of that money in this business and the other half I'm using it to feed my family."

Vetting terrorists

The last official census put Pemba's population at more than 205,000, while more than 130,000 displaced people are estimated to have arrived.

Local authorities are now struggling to provide basic social services.

Mayor Florete Simba told AFP he was faced with "a huge challenge" that required "diverting existing resources to support the displaced.

He deplored "pressure on water, health centres, sanitation and mobility and territorial planning".

On top of the infrastructure challenges, newcomers must be vetted given the risk that jihadists could be among them.

"We have had situations of criminality... especially small-scale theft," the mayor said.

"We have created a security committee, where we have our municipal police who, in coordination with the police of the Republic of Mozambique and local authorities track everyone who arrives."

A local resident told AFP: "On the beach, when the boats arrive, the police receive money" and let people through.

Physically at least, terrorists "are people like us, so they should search everyone who enters," the resident insisted.

Others say they have no choice but to take in entire families who really need support.

Protecting 'family'

But other residents have seen it as their duty to help the newcomers.

Fulcane Saide, 25, works for a Pemba fishing company but was born and raised in Paquitequete, the neighbourhood where the beach is, now home to thousands of displaced people.

"Our parents are from these affected areas, so they are like family to us.

"We give shelter without fear because we are sure they need a place to stay. If they didn't, they wouldn't be here."

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