MOZAMBIQUE: Horn migrants find peace but "no better life"
Fahir Mohamed has been at Maratane camp since October 2009
NAMPULA, 14 September 2011 (IRIN) - Fahir Mohamed sold her gold jewellery to raise the US$1,000 fee for her and her husband to be smuggled by boat from the southern Somali port city of Kismayo to Mombasa in Kenya and then on to Palma in northern Mozambique. The couple had decided to flee their home in the southern town of Barawa and leave their three young children with Mohamed’s mother, after an attack on the family by Al-Shabab militia.
“My plan was just to get peace and a life,” Mohamed told IRIN. “We were just running from that fighting.”
Their journey to Mozambique by sea took 19 days in a wooden fishing boat which Mohamed and her husband shared with 120 other Somali and Ethiopian migrants.
“I was scared, I don’t know how to swim,” she told IRIN. “We were only given small biscuits - no other food - and people were vomiting inside the boat. At night it was very cold but during the day very hot.”
Two of their fellow passengers did not survive the journey. Those that did were met in Palma by a mob of local people. “They beat us with sticks as soon as we came ashore; they took away everything - our mobiles, clothes, all of my belongings,” said Mohamed.
The group of migrants finally made it to a small makeshift camp outside Palma’s police station where they spent 11 days before the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) transported them to Maratane refugee camp in Nampula Province.
They are part of an influx of Horn of Africa migrants into Mozambique that started in early 2010, peaked at the beginning of 2011 when Maratane
camp was receiving about 300 new arrivals a day, and then tailed off in June when Mozambican police and border officials began intercepting the migrants in Palma and deporting them across the border to Tanzania.
“When they started arriving here in that big amount, they found us unprepared,” said camp administrator Francisco Armando Chihale. “At first they were staying outside. We built some emergency shelters but the number kept rising and we were just erecting tents.”
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According to another Somali resident of the camp, Mohidin Adam Ibrahim, about 80 Somalis died from malaria during last year’s rainy season before they were provided with shelter and bed nets.
Most of the new arrivals did not stay long. Of the roughly 8,000 who came through the camp in the first half of 2011, only 827 Ethiopians and 97 Somalis remain.
“Their destination is South Africa,” said Chihale. “Those who are still here, they don’t have money or they would have gone.”
Mohamed and other Somali and Ethiopian residents IRIN spoke to confirmed that most of them were not there by choice but had exhausted, or been robbed of, their money during their journey to Mozambique and could not afford to go on.
“There’s no opportunity to earn money here,” explained Mohamed, who has been at the camp for nearly two years, subsisting on monthly rations of maize meal and beans. “I don’t know how I can leave. It’s as if I’m a hostage here.”
“South Africa is freedom,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, the unofficial chief of Maratane’s small Somali community, who has also been there for two years. “We all need to go to South Africa because here there is no life.”
Lack of money is not the only impediment preventing the migrants from continuing their journey. Maratane is unfenced and has an open camp policy, but new arrivals are supposed to stay within its confines for three months before being issued with a temporary document that allows them to travel within the province while their refugee status is being determined.
However, many Somali and Ethiopian residents complained that a valid document did not prevent them from being detained by police when they visited the nearby city of Nampula. “The police arrest you even if you have papers and take everything you have in your pocket,” said Ibrahim Mohamed. “It’s difficult to live here, but to leave is very difficult because of the police.”
Annabella Marisa Varela, a protection officer with the National Institute for Refugee Assistance (INAR), the government department charged with receiving and protecting asylum-seekers, noted that many recent arrivals to the camp used fake documents to travel into town. “Sometimes the police detain them and then clarify with INAR if it’s the original document,” she told IRIN.
None of the Somalis at the camp have yet been granted the refugee status that would allow them greater freedom of movement and the right to settle in an urban area and run businesses or find jobs. Varela explained that there was a backlog of applications and that Ethiopians and Somalis had to wait longer than the usual three to four months for an interview to determine their refugee status because of doubts about their intentions to stay permanently in the country.
Chihale added that the Horn migrants were at a disadvantage because few could speak Portuguese and take advantage of vocational training available at the camp.
“We’re starting to discuss giving them land so they can grow food because we can’t leave them sitting waiting for rations,” he said.
Mohamed has had no contact with her mother and children since leaving Somalia and is distressed by the reports of famine there. “I don’t even know if they are alive,” she said. “But this is no place to have a family because you can’t sustain yourself even.”
“Here there is peace and security, but no better life.”