UNHCR repatriates Ivorian refugees from unstable Mali

Briefing Notes, 18 May 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 18 May 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR helped 104 Ivorian refugees fly back home earlier this week from Bamako, the Malian capital where they felt insecure due to continuing instability. UNHCR organized their repatriation by air as general insecurity and clashes throughout Mali made the road travel from Bamako to Abidjan too dangerous.

The 22 March military coup in Mali and the subsequent takeover of the entire north of the country by rebel Tuaregs, who had been fighting Malian government forces since mid-January, have heightened security concerns for these Ivorian refugees who asked UNHCR to urgently repatriate them.

The 104 passengers of whom 55 were women and girls flew on board a Boeing 737 operated by UN peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Liberia. They landed at the Abidjan International airport at 13:05 local time on Tuesday.

From the airport, the returnees went to the office of the Service d'Aide et d'Assistance aux Réfugiés et Apatrides (SAARA) where they received a hot meal and cash grants before proceeding to their home areas. Most of the returnees were from Abidjan but a few of them continued westwards to Gagnoa and Daloa.

Post-electoral violence in Côte d'Ivoire erupted in late November 2010 before subsiding in April 2011. The violence forced more than 250,000 Ivorians to seek asylum in 13 countries in West Africa. So far, over 150,000 have returned home. In addition an estimated one million people were displaced internally but most of them have now returned to their places of origin.

The returnees from Bamako were among nearly 2,000 Ivorian refugees who had sought asylum in Mali in the aftermath of the post-electoral crisis in Côte d'Ivoire.

UNHCR stands ready to organize more flights for Ivorian refugees who wish to repatriate due to the growing instability in Mali.

Insecurity in Mali has already forced close to 160,000 Malians into exile to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger while an estimated 147,000 Malians are also internally displaced.

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