UNHCR sharply revises projected funding estimates for Sahel operation

Press Releases, 31 May 2012

GENEVA The UN refugee agency has revised upwards the estimated cost of helping hundreds of thousands of displaced Malian civilians, who fled conflict in their country early this year. The refugee agency is now seeking US$153.7 million for its operations this year in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, up from an appeal for US35.6 million in February.

Following a Tuareg uprising that began in mid-January, a deepening crisis due to a coup d'état in March and the proliferation of armed groups in northern Mali, close to 320,000 Malians have been forced to flee to neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger or seek refuge in safer parts of Mali.

"The sharp degeneration of the situation in Mali, which has led to the flight and continued forced displacement of a huge number of Malians in such a short time, is totally unexpected," says Liz Ahua, UNHCR's deputy director for West Africa, Central Africa and the Great Lakes region.

UNHCR needs the increased funding for its field operations to help 240,000 refugees and 200,000 internally displaced Malians until the end of the year. This is five times the number of uprooted Malians that the agency had estimated that it would need to assist when it issued the first appeal in February, which covered the needs of 85,000 people until July.

Malians continue to flee to surrounding countries amid reports of serious human rights violations in northern Mali, including abductions, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

The majority of the refugees are women and children. They are settled in remote locations where the local communities are already facing food insecurity and severe water shortages due to years of drought in the Sahel region. Acute malnutrition rates among children under five years old are alarming, particularly in refugee sites in Mauritania and Niger, and there is an urgent need to increase water supply and improve sanitary conditions.

Despite the desperate humanitarian situation in the Sahel region, UNHCR has only received 13 per cent of the US$153.7 million needed. UNHCR is grateful to donors for the support received so far. However, our current funding level is woefully inadequate. We desperately need more funds now, ahead of the rainy season, which starts in June and is often marked by flooding.

Ahua says that UNHCR must preposition urgently needed aid close to the refugee hosting areas or face a disaster during the three months that the sites are likely to be cut off by flood waters.

Working in the Sahel region also makes the Mali situation one of UNHCR's most challenging operations in Africa because refugees and the internally displaced are in areas where insecurity, banditry and threats of kidnapping make it impossible for us to establish an office presence and deploy field staff as close to the refugees as we would like.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

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

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The Most Important Thing – Malian Refugees in Burkina Faso

"The Most Important Thing" documents - in words and pictures - some of the tough decisions people face when they have to flee their home. With support from UNHCR, American photographer Brian Sokol began the project in South Sudan, taking portraits of Sudanese refugees carrying the most valuable possession they brought with them into exile. He also asked them to explain their decision. Sokol continued with Syrian refugees in Iraq and in this photo essay looks at Malians in refugee camps in neighbouring Burkina Faso. While the photographs may reveal a fair amount about the subjects, it is their words - their stories - that share far more.

For the Sudanese, the most important things were primarily objects to keep them alive during their long, difficult journey: a pot, an axe, a water jug or a basket. For Syrians, the objects were largely sentimental: an old ring, a torn photograph, the key to a door that may no longer exist. Among the Malians depicted in this photo gallery, the objects largely had to do with their cultural identity. They spoke of how the items helped them to still feel part of their people, despite being forced into exile.

The Most Important Thing – Malian Refugees in Burkina Faso

Relocation from the Border Country of Burkina Faso

The process of relocating refugees from one site to a safer one is full of challenges. In Burkina Faso, the UN refugee agency has been working with partner organizations and the government to move thousands of Malian refugee families away from border sites like Damba to a safer camp some 100 kilometres to the south. Working under hot and harsh conditions, the aid workers had to dismantle shelters and help people load their belongings onto trucks for the journey. The new site at Mentao is also much easier to access with emergency assistance, including shelter, food, health care and education. These images, taken by photographer Brian Sokol, follow the journey made by Agade Ag Mohammed, a 71-year-old nomad, and his family from Damba to Mentao in March. They fled their home in Gao province last year to escape the violence in Mali, including a massacre that left two of his sons, a brother and five nephews dead. As of mid-April 2013 there were more than 173,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries. Within the arid West African nation there are an estimated 260,000 internally displaced people.

Relocation from the Border Country of Burkina Faso

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

The UN refugee agency has just renewed its appeal for funds to help meet the needs of tens of thousands of Malian refugees and almost 300,000 internally displaced people. The funding UNHCR is seeking is needed, among other things, for the provision of supplementary and therapeutic food and delivery of health care, including for those suffering from malnutrition. This is one of UNHCR's main concerns in the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania, which hosts more than 70,000 Malians. A survey on nutrition conducted last January in the camp found that more than 13 per cent of refugee children aged under five suffer from acute malnutrition and more than 41 per cent from chronic malnutrition. Several measures have been taken to treat and prevent malnutrition, including distribution of nutritional supplements to babies and infants, organization of awareness sessions for mothers, increased access to health facilities, launch of a measles vaccination campaign and installation of better water and sanitation infrastructure. Additional funding is needed to improve the prevention and response mechanisms. UNHCR appealed last year for US$144 million for its Mali crisis operations in 2013, but has received only 32 per cent to date. The most urgent needs are food, shelter, sanitation, health care and education.

The photographs in this set were taken by Bechir Malum.

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

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