White contractors were prioritised over poor black people for air rescue by a private security company during an attack by jihadists on a strategic town in northern Mozambique, Amnesty International has alleged.
In a report that cites testimony from 11 survivors, the international human rights body has accused the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) of even rescuing two dogs at the Amarula Hotel in Palma ahead of locals taking shelter in the compound.
DAG had been contracted by the Mozambique government to provide air support to its troops in their fight against Islamist militants known locally as Al-Shabaab – "the youth" – in resource-rich Cabo Delgado province.
The private security company’s helicopter teams have been hailed for rescuing hundreds of Palma residents who were caught up in Al-Shabaab’s attack on the port town, which started on March 24th and ended a week later.
However, survivors of the attack – in which dozens were killed – have claimed that although there was an initial plan to prioritise the helicopter evacuation of women, children and people with disabilities, it was abandoned in the days that followed by the hotel manager and DAG operatives.
"Witnesses told us of racial discrimination in decisions about who to evacuate from the Amarula Hotel," Amnesty International's regional director for east and southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said in the report.
“They all [the 11 interviewees] said that the hotel manager and DAG operatives, who were in charge of the rescue attempt, prioritised the safety of white contractors over local black people,” he said.
According to the witness testimony, an estimated 220 civilians took refuge in the Amarula Hotel following the attack by the Islamist militants, who are seeking to establish a caliphate in the province.
After the helicopter rescue took place, some of the people who were left behind attempted to flee by ground convoy. But they were ambushed by the militants, and some people were killed and injured in the incident.
Amnesty has called for a full investigation into the “alarming allegations” made by the survivors they interviewed.
“Abandoning people during an armed assault simply because of the colour of their skin is racism, and violates the obligation to protect civilians. This cannot go unanswered,” Mr Muchena said.
DAG told the AFP news agency that the allegations were “not at all accurate”. The company said it would issue a statement on the matter later.
One survivor of the hotel attack, a South African named Wesley Nel, has called into question the accuracy of the witness testimony given to Amnesty.
Mr Nel, his stepfather and brother were part of the convoy that made a break for it after they were not included in the air rescue. His brother, Adrian, was subsequently killed in the ambush.
In a Twitter post on Thursday he said the only people evacuated from the hotel were “those with medical conditions, women and children. Six white people and 18 black people.”