UNHCR deeply concerned by deteriorating situation in Mali

News Stories, 3 April 2012

© UNHCR/H.Caux
A young Malian refugee girl is about to drink the unclean water she collected from a local well in Ferrerio site, northern Burkina Faso.

GENEVA, April 3 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it is "deeply concerned" by the deteriorating political and security situation in Mali, where thousands of people continue to flee their homes.

"The north of the country is becoming more and more dangerous due to the proliferation of armed groups in the region," UNHCR's chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming said. "Refugees pouring into neighbouring countries are reporting the presence of armed militiamen and home guards units set up by local communities to defend themselves," she added.

Fleming told journalists in Geneva that more than 2,000 people had fled to Burkina Faso and Mauritania over the past five days because of the insecurity and the political instability stemming from the military coup of 22 March in Mali.

Malian refugees have been crossing into Burkina Faso and Mauritania at an average rate of 400 people per day in the past week. The majority of the refugees are Tuaregs, but there are also ethnic Peuls, Arabs and Bambara.

Malians fleeing to Mauritania are mainly from the Timbuktu region, while those heading to Burkina Faso come from Gao and Timbuktu. Most tell UNHCR staff that they fled because they were worried about armed robbers and feared there would be more heavy fighting in the north, while some said they left their homes due to lack of food.

Others told UNHCR teams that they decided to leave Mali when hopes for a negotiated peace between the government and Tuareg rebels in the north faded after the coup. The displacement crisis in Mali began in January after fighting erupted between government troops and the rebels. To date, the violence has uprooted more than 200,000 people, including around 100,000 who have fled the country.

The refugees also tell of armed men taking cars, money and other personal belongings from people fleeing towards Burkina Faso. They say that large numbers of Malians are on the way to Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Meanwhile, the number of Malians crossing into Niger appears to have dropped recently. UNHCR has only heard of one group of 300 people crossing last week into Niger and seeking shelter in the village of Ayrou. UNHCR staff are monitoring the border with local authorities.

"We are stepping up our assistance to Malian refugees across the Sahel region who face acute water and food shortages," Fleming said. "We'd like to reiterate that UNHCR is committed to helping neighbouring countries and host communities which have been providing safety and shelter to the refugees despite these shortages and the difficult conditions."

The influx of large numbers of mostly nomadic refugees and their cattle is straining the limited resources in many arrival areas. We are working with specialized agencies to rehabilitate wells and boreholes across the region to benefit the refugees and host communities.

Of the 200,000 people displaced by the fighting, more than 23,000 have found shelter in Burkina Faso, 46,000 are in Mauritania and a further 25,000 are being hosted in Niger, together with nearly 2,000 Niger nationals who had been living in Mali for decades. More than 93,000 people believed to be internally displaced in Mali.

The situation has worsened since the Tuareg fighters captured several big towns in the north last week, preventing UNHCR and other aid agencies from reaching those in need of assistance. UNHCR is calling on all parties to refrain from any action that could put fleeing populations in danger or hamper their movement to safer areas.




UNHCR country pages

Mali Crisis: Urgent Appeal

More than 300,000 Malians have been forced to abandon homes in the hope of finding safety. Help us protect them.

Donate to this crisis


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

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

Alternatives to Camps in NigerPlay video

Alternatives to Camps in Niger

Niger: Flight from Nigeria
Play video

Niger: Flight from Nigeria

People escaping the fighting between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram rebels get a friendly welcome in Niger.
Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania Play video

Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania

Hundreds of Malian refugees voted in exile at the weekend in the presidential election in their home country, way down on the numbers eligible to cast a ballot.