Last month, at least 50,000 people fled the Mozambican town of Palma following an Islamist attack on the town that left dozens of people dead. It took the Mozambique army supported by a private military contractor nearly two weeks to reclaim the town.
An Amnesty International report released on Thursday said White contractors were given priority over local Black people during a rescue operation at a hotel in Palma when the attacks by an armed group known locally as al-Shabab began in March. The report compiled accounts of 11 Black civilians who were present at the Amarula Hotel during evacuation.
Amnesty said even dogs were airlifted to safety before local Black people by a helicopter that rescued civilians from the hotel where they had sought shelter. “White contractors [were] airlifted to safety before local Black people,” according to Amnesty. The hotel manager reportedly took his two German Shepherd dogs on the rescue helicopter, leaving people who were hoping to get to safety behind.
“If the dogs hadn’t gone, about two or three more people could have gone on the helicopter,” said one survivor. “That dismayed people because some women didn’t get in the helicopter because of the dogs.”
Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a South Africa private company which was involved in the rescue operation, denied the accusations. “We rescued 24 people from the Amarula Lodge on the 25 March 2021 this consisted of 6 white persons and 18 Black persons of differing nationalities,” the company hired to assist the Mozambique government fight the armed group said in a statement.
“The DAG team did not choose who would or would not be evacuated, they secured the landing site and loaded the people that were sent to them for evacuation by the lodge manager,” it added.
Palma was already hosting thousands of people who had fled violence in the surrounding area – Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado region – when the Islamist militant attack began in March.
French company Total recently began to develop in the fishing town a $20bn gas liquification plant for the second largest gas reserve in Africa. Hence, workers and contractors, both foreign and Mozambican, flew to the town frequently to develop the project. When the attacks began, some 200 people, largely civil servants and foreigners working on the gas project sought refuge in the Amarula Palma Hotel. There were about 20 White workers among the group that sought shelter there, Amnesty said.
“While the white contractors were prioritised to be airlifted to safety, the Black nationals were left to fend for themselves. After the majority of the white contractors and a few well-off Black nationals – among them the Administrator for Palma – were rescued, those left behind attempted to flee by ground convoy” but they were ambushed by the armed group, Amnesty said.
“These are alarming allegations that the rescue plan was racially segregated,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s regional director for east and southern Africa, said.
“Abandoning people during an armed assault simply because of the color of their skin is racism, and violates the obligation to protect civilians,” he said while describing it as extremely shocking for the hotel manager to “choose to rescue his dogs instead of people”.
One survivor said that “we didn’t want all white people to be rescued, because we knew that if all the whites left, we would be left there to die. We heard them talking about the plan to take all the whites and leave” Black people.
Following the attack, the remains of a dozen expats were found outside the Amarula Hotel as they tried to flee the armed ground that surrounded it as part of the attack. The Mozambique government subsequently called for international support in what was described as the most serious terror attack since the start of the Islamic State insurgency four years ago.