UNHCR steps up emergency response to crisis in Mali

News Stories, 7 February 2012

© UNHCR/A.O.Barry
Mauritania / Arrival at the border, in Fassala village, of Tuareg refugees from Mali who have been forced to flee fighting between rebel Tuareg groups and governmental forces in the Azawad region of northern Mali. UNHCR Mauritania is distributing food and relief items to the refugees, while water is being trucked in by the authorities. / UNHCR / A.O. Barry / February 2012

GENEVA, February 10 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday stepped up its response to the growing displacement crisis in Mali, launching an aid airlift with a flight to Nema in Mauritania carrying 300 tents. It was the first of four planned aid flights to countries sheltering civilians fleeing clashes in Mali between the armed forces and Tuareg rebels.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists that the agency has purchased 1,200 tents for Mauritania, 2,000 for Niger and 500 for Burkina Faso. These will be flown from stockpiles in Cameroon and Ghana to address the critical shelter needs in influx areas in the three countries.

Trucks will also be transporting basic relief items such as sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, mosquito nets and kitchen sets. Two trucks carrying 40 tons of aid are currently on the way from Ghana to Niger, where they are due to arrive by the middle of next week.

Meanwhile, at Mauritania's Fassala border crossing with Mali, the authorities and UNHCR are working around the clock to provide the refugees with food, clean water and shelter. UNHCR has already sent several convoys of food and aid items, with distribution of a 15-day food ration being carried out by the local authorities.

Most of the almost 11,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania are Tuareg, many of whom are fleeing from nearby Léré. The Mauritanian authorities have identified a potential camp site in M'Bera, 50 kilometres from the border, and plan with UNHCR to move the refugees to the new location. The same site had hosted around 30,000 Malian refugees in the 1990s when there were also clashes between Tuareg rebels and the Malian army.

In Niger, a UNHCR emergency team on Thursday interviewed a group of Malian refugees in Sinegodar, north-east of the capital Niamey. "Refugees told us that their hometown in Anderamboukane is now empty. They say that the population fled from the Malian border town following a 26 January attack by rebels targeting homes, looting, poisoning water points, burning personal property and businesses and taking away animals," Edwards said in Geneva on Friday.

"They all said that they want to go back as soon as peace is restored. In the interim, they would like to travel back to salvage whatever is left of their personal property and animals that may have survived the attacks and looting," he added.

In Burkina Faso, UNHCR has released aid from its local stocks to be distributed to Malian refugees as well host communities in the arid northern region of the country. An estimated 8,000 people have crossed into Burkina Faso from Mali, of whom 6,000 are in the north.

Since the start of the Tuareg insurgency in northern Mali in mid-January, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people have crossed to seek safety, mainly in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. Not all are refugees or asylum-seekers. With Niger, for example, some of those returning are Niger nationals.

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Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks met with Malian refugees in Damba Camp on July 6, 2012, in northern Burkina Faso. The acclaimed soprano is using the visit to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from conflict in their country this year and are living in camps or settlements in neighbouring countries. As of early July, more than 198,000 Malians had fled to Mauritania (88,825), Burkina Faso (65,009) and Niger (44,987). At least 160,000 were estimated to be displaced within Mali, most in the north.

Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Harsh life for Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Some 3,900 Malian refugees are living in Damba camp in northern Burkina Faso. They left their homes in Gossi and Gao in northern Mali to escape fighting between rebel Tuareg movement and the Malian army as well as threats posed by criminal gangs and Islamist groups. Several families have recently arrived in the camp, worried that an attack on Gao in June will spill over to other towns. Life is harsh in the camp and UNHCR urgently needs fresh funds to ensure life-saving assistance for this silent humanitarian crisis.

More than 380,000 Malians have been forced to flee their homes this year. Over 65,000 of them have found refuge in Burkina Faso. And this comes at a time when the countries in the Sahel region are suffering from drought and food shortfalls.

Harsh life for Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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