UNHCR and WFP chiefs highlight plight of Mali refugees in Niger

News Stories, 7 May 2012

© UNHCR/H.Caux
High Commissioner António Guterres meets refugees from Mali during his visit to Niger.

NIAMEY, Niger, May 7 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has called on the international community to help Malian refugees and host communities in Niger and said a political solution was urgently needed to prevent the situation in the Sahel region from turning into a global crisis.

"The international community must mobilize itself to assist the local communities and refugees in need in Niger and in the Sahel countries. Aid agencies crucially need more financial support," Guterres said during a four-day visit to Niger with World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

"They must also come together in order to find political solutions to the Mali situation. This is absolutely necessary to avoid a crisis turning into a global threat to the security in the region," he stressed. The continuing fighting in Mali between government forces and rebel Tuareg fighters has left 150,000 displaced within the country and forced more than 160,000 to find refuge in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. Others have arrived in Algeria.

Guterres and Cousin, who assumed office last month, arrived in Niger last Friday and have since visited refugees and host communities in the Ouallam and Maradi regions, where villages face food shortages. "We are facing in Niger, and other countries in the Sahel, a deadly combination: drought first, with a dramatic food security problem that WFP is addressing with an enormous effort, and an ongoing conflict in Mali," Guterres said Saturday in Mangaizé refugee camp.

"UNHCR has been moving the refugees from the volatile border areas to refugee sites, or camps further inland where they can have better access to water, shelter, health structures. But with the persistent political and security instability in Mali, we fear that new influxes will continue to put an additional strain on neighbouring countries," he added.

Mangaizé camp, located 75 kilometers from the border with Mali and about 150 kms from the capital Niamey, is hosting more than 3,000 Malian refugees. Many had fled attacks on northern cities and the general insecurity, reaching the camp by truck.

Ousseini, a 30-year-old primary school teacher, sold a television and some goats to raise enough money to pay a truck driver a week ago to take him, his wife, their son and seven nephews to Mangaizé from the town of Menaka, in northern Mali's Gao region. They originally came from Kidal, but left the town in early April when it came under attack. "We left because of insecurity, but also because I have not been paid since February," He explained. They made their way to Menaka, but decided to leave for Niger when the security situation deteriorated and it became difficult to get food and medicine.

Mariama, aged 47, also fled from Kidal to Menaka. She went with her seven children and mother-in-law, but could not afford to take everyone on to Niger. "My father gave me a goat that I sold to pay for transportation from Menaka to Niger, but it was not enough for all of us so I left my three youngest children with my cousins," she said. Her parents stayed behind in Kidal and she feared for their safety. "We could not stay in Menaka as my family members are also having problems to feed their own families, we just did not want to be an extra burden."

Conditions in the Mangaizé camp are tough; children, pregnant women and older people suffer a lot from the heat and the arid environment. Simple tasks require a lot of effort, like pumping water and pounding sorghum grains for food. Many people suffer from respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malaria and need treatment at the clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières. UNHCR pays for an ambulance to take women facing difficult pregnancies to Ouallam city, an hour away.

While visiting Mangaizé, the High Commissioner noted the harsh living conditions but stressed to the refugees that UNHCR was working closely with its partners to improve their daily lives. UNHCR is about to move families to a tented camp.

Guterres met with Niger's Prime Minister Brigi Rafini and other senior officials on Monday to discuss the refugee situation and reiterated his thanks to Niger for hosting the Malian refugees.

By Hélène Caux in Niamey, Niger




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.