UNHCR stepping up aid as influx from Mali to neighboring countries doubles

Briefing Notes, 17 February 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 17 February 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of people fleeing violence in northern Mali to seek refuge in neighboring countries has doubled over the past ten days as fighting between Tuareg rebels and the Malian army continues.

Over 44,000 people fled across the borders into Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, according to respective government registration figures compared to 22,000 recorded on 7 February.

Conflict is reported to have taken place these past days in Tessalit, in the Kidal region of Mali, as well as in Tinezewadern at the border with Algeria, which might prompt additional people to flee Mali to neighboring countries.

As the influx continues, our teams are stepping up assistance for refugees who have taken refuge in makeshift shelters in villages bordering Mali. Humanitarian assistance is all the more critical because the Sahel region is facing a severe food crisis due to several years of drought.

In Mauritania authorities have so far registered a total of 18,312 Malian refugees, including 2,213 who arrived over the past two days. The majority of the new arrivals are from the region of Léré in Mali. The rest come from further areas between Léré, Mopti and Timbuktu. They are settled in the village of Fassala located three km from Léré.

Our emergency team in Mauritania is coordinating the distribution of food and other critical aid to 5,000 refugees and we are working to reach others in need. UNHCR has purchased the equivalent of a 15 day food ration for an additional 8,000 refugees. We are also trucking water to the refugee hosting areas and transporting emergency medical supplies provided by partners.

Beginning today, our teams will be working to revamp the Mbéra camp which hosted Tuareg refugees in the 1990's. The site still has several water points and structures that we will renovate to be used as schools and health centers.

Meanwhile in Niger, two charter flights landed last night in the capital Niamey, with 2,500 tents from our stockpile in Douala, Cameroon, 500 of which will be transported on to Burkina Faso. Trucks with relief assistance are expected to arrive in Niamey and Ouagadougou from our stockpile in Accra, Ghana.

According to governmental estimates, there are now 18,000 people who have crossed from Mali over to northern Niger in the past four weeks. This figure includes some Niger nationals who had been living and working in Mali for years and returned to Niger due to the security situation. Refugees here are telling our teams that they are also leaving because the authorities and police have abandoned their villages and they feel unsafe. Some reported attacks by bandits who stole their possessions and cattle.

In Burkina Faso, over 8,000 people have crossed the border from Mali and are staying mainly in makeshift camps in the north of the country as well as with host families or rented accommodations in Ouagadougou.

Fighting between the Tuareg liberation movement MNLA (Mouvement National de Liberation de l'Azawad) and governmental forces resumed on 17 January in Mali, breaking a 2009 agreement that had officially ended the Tuareg rebellion.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Niger (on mission): Hélène Caux on mobile +227 92 37 31 57
  • In Mauritania: Elise Villechalane on mobile +222 22 68 55 51
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 9138
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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