Black citizens were left behind during a rescue operation in favor of white contractors who were given precedence in an evacuation following an attack on the Mozambican town of Palma by an armed group known locally as al-Shabaab — no apparent relation to the Somali guerrilla group by the same name — on March 24, Amnesty International reported.
Taken from the accounts of 11 Black civilians present during the rescue, Amnesty released a statement that dogs were airlifted to safety before the Black people taking shelter from the violence in the Amarula Palma Hotel, Al-Jazeera reported.
In the last flight from the hotel, the hotel manager apparently arranged a charter helicopter ride for himself and his two German shepherd dogs, taking the places of other people that were desperate to get to safety, several witnesses informed Amnesty.
“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) — which did not operate the final flight with the dogs on it — denied the accusations, asserting in a statement, “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.” DAG is a South Africa private company that participated in the rescue operation, and was employed to help the Mozambique government fight al-Shabaab.
“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,” the statement continued.
There were around 200 people taking refuge in the hotel, primarily civil servants and foreigners laboring on a gas project nearby, Al Jazeera reported. According to Amnesty, 20 workers from that group were white.
“While the white contractors were prioritized 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 al-Shabaab ambushed them, Amnesty said.
Another survivor said, “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 the Blacks.”
The organization’s regional director for east and southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said “These are alarming allegations that the rescue plan was racially segregated, with white contractors obviously receiving preferential treatment.”
“The total lack of co-ordination between the Mozambique security forces and Dyck Advisory Group resulted in evacuations that were racist, and must be thoroughly investigated,” said Muchena.
He added, “Despite similar previous attacks by ‘Al-Shabaab’, this is the first instance we are aware of a rescue mission being attempted – and it was only when white contractors were deemed to be at risk.”
“Abandoning people during an armed assault simply because of the color of their skin is racism, and violates the obligation to protect civilians. This cannot go unanswered.”
Dozens of Mozambicans and foreigners were killed following the takeover of Palma, and tens of thousands were displaced, said the government.
The escalating hostility, which has persisted in the Cabo Delgado province for three years, has prompted international and regional pressure to curtail the violence.