Sharp increase in Malian refugee arrivals in Mauritania, critical low funding levels

Briefing Notes, 10 July 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Six months ago refugees began fleeing Mali to Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso. Today, political instability in Bamako and insecurity in northern Mali continue to trigger the flight of thousands of refugees to neighbouring countries and other parts of Mali. Over 365,000 people are estimated to have been displaced since January.

Over the past month, the major influx has been into Mauritania, with 15,000 people having arrived in the last two weeks of June and arrivals since then continuing at between 200 and 500 refugees a day. Most of the new arrivals come from the Timbuktu region. They cite recent armed confrontation between Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels as the reason for their flight.

Smaller numbers of refugees are continuing to arrive in Burkina Faso and Niger. They warn that recent instability in the north, especially in the Gao area, could result in new arrivals over the coming weeks.

In Mauritania the Government and UNHCR have agreed to open a new camp to accommodate the large number of new arrivals. The new camp will be located close to the village of Aghor, 17 km from the Mbera refugee camp in the country's southwest where close to 90,000 refugees are currently hosted. Aghor was home to thousands of Malian refugees in the 1990s.

Many of the families who have arrived in neighbouring countries in recent weeks said they left for reasons including lack of access to food and water, armed men occupying their land and fear of an increase in violent confrontation between various armed groups operating in northern Mali.

Operations to support Malian refugees are threatened by a critically low level of funding. For UNHCR, only US$34.9 million has been received against an appeal for US$153 million; that is just 22.7 % of the funding needed. Our partners WFP and UNICEF also report poor funding levels for refugee operations in the region.

UNHCR and partners are struggling to maintain minimum humanitarian standards for the refugees. In some camps in Niger and Burkina Faso refugees have to contend with daily water supplies below the emergency standard of 15 litres per person per day.

According to UNHCR health and nutrition experts, the nutrition status of the refugee population in all three countries is currently considered satisfactory and at a level comparable to the host populations. However, for both the host populations and the refugees, there is a threat of worsening acute malnutrition over the coming months due to food shortages and the rainy season.

A lethal combination of the rainy season and poor sanitary conditions in many of these camps risks outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. Cases of cholera have been reported in a camp in Niger. Funds are needed to improve the basic infrastructure of these camps, with a priority being increased numbers of latrines and improved water provision.

In all three countries, the vast majority of refugees are women and children, with many men staying behind to guard their livestock. A recent registration exercise in Niger found that over 60% of the refugees are children under the age of 18. The lack of funding is having a profound effect on access to education for refugees in all three countries. In Mauritania, low funding levels are resulting in only 20% of school age children having access to education.

There are multiple challenges for the humanitarian community to respond to this complex crisis. The security situation in the whole region remains difficult affecting the delivery of humanitarian aid as well as impacting the coping mechanisms of the refugees, displaced and host communities. Access to some camps in Burkina Faso and Niger is becoming more problematic as the rainy season sets in, resulting in the deterioration of some roads. In all three countries the areas refugees are arriving in are remote and under-developed, and basic services are extremely limited.

The majority of refugees in Niger and Burkina Faso are in official camps, but others are known to be in spontaneous sites, with host families and in urban centres. The host community is in a fragile situation, with drought and insecurity affecting the entire region.

To date over 205,000 people have fled Mali to Mauritania (89,390), Burkina Faso (65,009) and Niger (50,813). At least 160,000 are estimated to be displaced inside Mali, the majority in the north.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dakar (Regional): Helene Caux on mobile +221 77 333 12 91
  • In Nouakchott: Elise Villechalane on mobile +222 22 68 55 51
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38
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