Dozens of civilians have been killed and nearly 28,000 displaced, following terror attacks in Palma on the northeast coast of Mozambique (UN). Since 31 March, local MAF partner – Ambassador Aviation – has rescued over 500 refugees in a joint emergency evacuation effort…
On 24 March, around 100 militants reportedly raided the town of Palma causing thousands of people to flee the area. Palma has a population of around 75,000 (The Guardian).
On 31 March, Ambassador Aviation made their first two round-trips from Palma to Pemba – a 50 minute flight south - to evacuate 13 adults, 12 children and six babies. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been treating the refugees on arrival.
To date, Ambassador Aviation has evacuated 559 refugees on 80 flights including children, the elderly, sick and injured people, and one pregnant woman in distress.
One passenger and eyewitness who runs a nursery in Palma told MAF that the attack began right outside his nursery - gunfire shook the building. The man then fled into the bush and hid there for 15 days.
When attempting to return home, he learned that insurgents had broken in, using his home and nursery for their own ends. Following his ordeal, the man is very grateful for the evacuation flight to Pemba.
Tropical Storm Jobo has made matters worse
On 24 April, there were an additional three flights between Pemba and Ibo Island off the north coast of Mozambique to deliver 1,125 kg of medicine.
Ibo Island had suffered an earlier attack by insurgents and consequently, there are many refugees staying on the island for safety.
To make matters worse for residents in the Cabo Delgado province, Storm Jobo hit the region on 22 April, causing delays to deliveries.
Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft used for evacuations
Since 31 March, Ambassador Aviation pilots, Dave LePoidevin and Dave Holmes, have been helping to coordinate evacuation efforts from Afungi Airstrip, which is just a few miles from Palma. A Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft had been used to evacuate refugees from the area.
The Afungi peninsula is heavily guarded due to the intermittent construction of a multibillion-dollar liquified natural gas project owned by French energy giant ‘Total’. Private security forces, local police and the Mozambiquan military maintain control of the area that includes Afungi Airstrip.
The attack was launched just hours after Total announced that it would resume work on its gas project. Since then, Total has been forced to suspend their operations and evacuate their staff to safety.
Evacuees vetted to prevent infiltration
Emergency evacuations are undertaken by aircraft operated by Ambassador Aviation and other agencies, as well as ships and boats.
Evacuees entering Afungi Airstrip are screened by police and security forces to prevent terrorist infiltration before they are accepted on the flights. This has resulted in long queues of hundreds of people.
Once vetted, passengers are given a hot meal. Many of the evacuees are not originally from Palma, but were working in the area and were forced to leave because of the volatile situation.
On arrival in Pemba, an ambulance is waiting to treat the injured.
'The most challenging part is deciding from the group of passengers available, which ones to put on the flight. There are sick and injured people, pregnant women, and families with many children.
'We are unable to take them all and we can't break up families with many children, so it's never a simple process. It's so difficult to look in their eyes and hear them plead to be on the flight, and leave some behind.'
Diniz Cardoso, MAF Operations
Food and engineers also flown in
Palma’s hospital, banks and the state prosecutor's office have all been destroyed in what the BBC has described as ‘one of the biggest’ extremist attacks in the region since militants launched their insurgency in 2017.
In addition to evacuating refugees, Ambassador Aviation has flown in mobile phone tower engineers, cables, a power supply and repair equipment in a bid to restore damaged communications infrastructure.
Ambassador Aviation is also working in partnership with local humanitarian agency, VAMOZ (Voluntários Anónimos de Moçambique) flying in nearly 1,500kg of food aid.
The food is for survivors fleeing the fighting in Cabo Delgado province. They had attempted to enter Tanzania but were prevented from crossing the border and have no supplies.
Over 20,000 people are still unaccounted for more than two weeks after the terror attack (Sky News).
According to NGO ‘Save the Children’, 2,500 people have been killed and 700,000 have fled the region since the extremist attacks first started in 2017.
The need for evacuation flights, food, medical supplies and other relief continues. In response, MAF has secured another aircraft and pilot from partner, Mercy Air in South Africa.
Following last month's attacks in Palma, the UN's Organisation for Migration states that nearly 28,000 internally displaced people fleeing from Palma have been registered. 44% of them are children.
MAF partner, Ambassador Aviation, doing what they do best: