UNHCR chief warns of the dangers of inaction over Mali

In an op-ed in The New York Times, António Guterres urges the international community to step up efforts for a political solution to the Mali crisis.

Rokiyatou, 8, and her friend Fadimata, 10, fled their homes in Gossi, in northern Mali, last February. They and their families found refuge at Damba camp in Burkina Faso.  © UNHCR/H.Caux

GENEVA, September 5 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has urged the international community to step up efforts for a political solution to the Mali crisis, warning that the whole region could be affected unless stronger action is taken.

"Mali now matters more than ever," Guterres stressed in an op-ed run Tuesday in The New York Times. He noted that the beleaguered African nation was no longer some isolated place of myth that could be ignored and wrote that "political crisis and state fragmentation in Mali are a significant threat to political stability in the region."

The multiple crises unfolding in and around Mali, he wrote, were "shaped by an intersection of trends that resonate far beyond the region." These included food insecurity and desertification linked to climate change, incomplete democratization processes marked by social exclusion, and a growing population of young people with poor employment prospects.

Guterres warned the Mali crisis, if left unchecked, could "create an arc of instability extending west into Mauritania and east through Niger, Chad and Sudan to the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden." Calling for an early resolution, he called for greater international support for those national and regional actors who are working to secure a political settlement and deal with complex security issues. He also urged that the response to the humanitarian crisis be expanded and not allowed to slip off the international agenda at a time when attention is on events in Syria.

Mali was plunged into turmoil at the start of this year, when fighting erupted between a Tuareg rebel movement and Malian government forces. The government in Bamako was ousted by coup in April while the northern region is now under the control of Islamists. More than 450,000 people have since fled their homes in Mali, with over 265,000 seeking shelter in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

All this comes at a time of drastic food and water shortages in the Sahel region. UNHCR is working to help the displaced throughout the region as well as trying to alleviate the burden on host communities.