UNHCR, governments to relocate thousands of Malian refugees from borders

Briefing Notes, 14 February 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 14 February 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania UNHCR is working with governments to relocate refugees fleeing Mali to safer locations away from border areas.

In northern Niger we have had reports of significant new arrivals over the weekend most from the Anderboukane and Menaka areas of Mali. UNHCR does not at this stage have confirmed numbers for overall arrivals from Mali into Niger, but from available estimates we know there are multiples of thousands. People are living in makeshift shelters, facing extremes of heat by day and cold at night. The health situation is relatively stable but there are incidences of malaria, eye infection, diarrhea and respiratory infection; In addition the sanitation and clean water situation is inadequate. UNHCR health experts are working with the Niger health authorities and medical agencies already on the ground to coordinate the response.

UNHCR is also working with the Niger government on plans to move the refugees to sites away from the volatile border. We have just identified a site to set up a camp near Ouallam town, 100 kilometres north of Niamey. The site will host refugees presently staying in Sinegodar and Mangaize, in Tillabery region. Some refugees have told us that they are reluctant to move since they hope to return home as soon as the security conditions permit them to.

Refugees we met told us that many people are now displaced at the Mali border areas and that they might cross over to Niger should the confrontation situation in Mali deteriorate.

In Burkina Faso, according to the authorities, 8,000 people have entered the country so far they are now mainly in the North. Many are women and children. They lack everything, in particular food, water and shelter. The government has asked UNHCR to help with the relocation of thousands of these refugees from spontaneous settlements in the north of the country, to two sites in Goudebo and Ingani, further away from the border.

In Mauritania over 13,000 people have arrived in the past two weeks an average of 1,000 a day. Refugees are living in makeshift shelters. A UNHCR site planner has arrived at the border today and is working with the Mauritanian authorities and local NGOs to prepare a camp in M'Bera, 50 kilometres from the border.

UNHCR staff are now on site in all three countries, and planning for registration is underway. Meanwhile, assistance is ongoing in all three countries. In Mauritania, UNHCR is mid-way through distributing a 15-day food ration, tents and non-food items to the refugees at the border town of Fassala. Several flights carrying tents and relief items arrived over the weekend at Nema airport.

For Niger and Burkina Faso, 2500 tents will be airlifted this week to Niger, from our stockpile in Douala, Cameroon; 500 will be delivered by road to Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, a convoy has left Accra, Ghana over the weekend with 40 metric tons of relief assistance for refugees in Niger and Burkina Faso.

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