Almost 10,000 Mozambicans have been forcibly removed from Tanzania so far this year after fleeing a deadly Islamist insurgency in their homeland, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
Mozambique’s northern-most province of Cabo Delgado has been the focus of an insurgency linked to Islamic State since October 2017, but the conflict began gathering pace last year with militants regularly seizing and holding key towns.
That culminated in an attack on the town of Palma in March, which killed dozens, displaced 70,000 according to the UNHCR and forced oil giant Total to halt its nearby $20 billion gas project.
Many people headed north to the Tanzanian border, but were rejected, or were admitted then returned via a different border post hours inland.
UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said on Friday 9,600 people had been forcibly removed from Tanzania since January.
“Those pushed back from Tanzania end up in a dire situation at the border and are exposed to gender-based violence and health risks as many are sleeping in the open at night in extreme cold without blankets or a roof over their heads,” Baloch told a news briefing in Geneva.
Tanzanian authorities were not immediately available for comment. Senior officials in the ministry of home affairs did not respond immediately to Reuters calls and messages.
The UNHCR has previously said returnees reported being separated from their families, detained and interrogated before being returned to Mozambique, despite wanting to remain in Tanzania for safety.
Baloch said thousands of people were also reported to be stranded in very insecure areas around Palma, where those fleeing say the situation is still unstable with regular gunfire at night and the torching of houses.
Almost 800,000 people had now fled their homes overall, he added.