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UNHCR seeks US$154 million to help Mali refugees, up sharply from earlier appeal

News Stories, 31 May 2012

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Most of the Malian refugees are women and children. This group in Niger wait for aid.

GENEVA, May 31 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has made a fresh appeal for its operations to help forcibly displaced Malian civilians in the Sahel region, seeking US153.7 million for the whole year, up sharply from an earlier appeal in February.

In a press release, UNHCR said in Geneva on Thursday the money was needed for its operations this year in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. In February, it had called on donors for US$35.6 million to cover the period up to July 2012.

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," said 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. The earlier appeal in February 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 killings 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, 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," the press release said, adding: "We desperately need more funds now, ahead of the rainy season, which starts in June and is often marked by flooding.

Ahua said UNHCR must preposition urgently needed aid close to the refugee-hosting areas or face a disaster in sites likely to be cut off by floodwaters.

"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," the press release said.

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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

Malians still fleeing to Niger

Malian refugees continue to arrive in Niger, fleeing fighting and general insecurity and political instability in their country. At the Mangaizé refugee site in northern Niger, some 3,000 refugees live in difficult conditions, bearing soaring temperatures during the day and wondering when they will be able to return home. The scarce water and food resources in the arid Sahel country also present a huge challenge for the refugees and local communities. More than 40,000 Malians have found refuge in Niger since January, when fighting erupted between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces. More than 160,000 Malians have arrived in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, while 133,000 are displaced within their country. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Niger, including Mangaizé, in early May with World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin to help focus world attention on the crisis and to seek help for the displaced.

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Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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