Refugees from Mali continue to arrive in neighbouring countries
Fighting in the north of the country is reported to have displaced more than 150,000 people.
GENEVA, March 2 (UNHCR) - Refugees from the West African country of Mali continue to arrive in Mauritania and Burkina Faso after fleeing violence and insecurity at home.
Fighting in northern Mali between government forces and a Tuareg rebel group, which erupted in mid-January, has forced ten of thousands of people to flee their homes and to seek safety in neighbouring countries such as Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
Speaking to reporters at a news briefing in Geneva Friday, UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the refugees had told UN refugee agency staff on the ground that they feared being caught up in the fighting. "They are also concerned about bandits, who are taking advantage of the prevailing instability to loot homes and property," he added.
According to Mauritanian government estimates, there are now over 31,000 Malian refugees in the country, the majority of who have arrived in the past six weeks. On average, some 1,500 refugees from Mali arrive in the country every day, Mahecic said.
In Burkina Faso, where 19,198 refugees have already been recorded by the authorities, an average of 500 Malians are crossing the border daily. UNHCR reports that the number of people fleeing into Niger has subsided over the past week.
Government figures from the countries receiving the refugees indicate that more than 80,000 people have fled the fighting in Mali. The UNHCR spokesman said the number of internally displaced people within Mali has recently been revised upward to roughly the same figure as that of refugees, an estimated 81,000, according to government officials and humanitarian organizations operating in the troubled northern region.
UNHCR has begun registering refugees in all three asylum countries in order to better assess and address their needs. The agency hopes to finish the registration process within the next few weeks, Mahecic said.
The border areas in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger where the refugees are sheltering is experiencing severe drought which created food and water shortages.
"We are working with the government authorities and our humanitarian partners to address the needs of both the incoming refugees and the local population in all three countries," Mahecic told reporters at Geneva's Palais des Nations. "Despite their own difficulties, local residents have been sharing their meager resources with the new arrivals."
UNHCR is planning to relocate refugees to several camps that the agency is establishing in the region. In Mauritania, more than 8,000 vulnerable men, women and children have already been moved. Due to the harsh living conditions in the border areas, Mahecic said large numbers of refugees are now asking to be relocated to such camps.