UNHCR: Reconciliation effort needed to avoid long-term Mali displacement

Briefing Notes, 1 March 2013

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 1 March 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Almost two months on in Mali from the French intervention, UNHCR is continuing to see large numbers of internally displaced people, while in surrounding countries the numbers of refugees are still high and in some cases increasing. Despite improvements to the security situation in some areas, fear of returning home remains widespread.

Of the estimated 430,000 people uprooted by this crisis, available figures are that 260,665 are still displaced inside Mali. The refugee population is 170,300, of whom 71,624 are in Mauritania, 47,205 in Burkina Faso and some 50,000 in Niger, and 1,500 in Algeria. Spontaneous returns among IDPs are still low although bus services between Bamako and Gao resumed last week, and boats are also now travelling between Mopti and Timbuktu.

For IDPs and refugees alike the primary worry remains insecurity. Continued fighting, suicide attacks, reprisal attacks against some communities, the presence of mines and unexploded ordinance in the regions of Mopti, Gao, and Timbuktu, are all cited as reasons to delay returning. However, the absence of services in the north is also a factor: With few schools functioning there, and government authorities still absent in many towns and cities, many displaced families prefer to wait.

For those outside Mali, an additional complication is ethnic make-up, as a majority of the refugees are Tuareg or Arab. Fear of reprisal attacks is widespread, as is fear of criminality or that jihadists might remain present in the community. A reflection of the situation is that while new refugee numbers are substantially down on their levels of a few weeks ago, Mali is nonetheless continuing to see net refugee outflow, albeit a modest one. During February, average arrivals in Mauritania were over 1,500 people per week mainly from the Lere, Goundam, Gnoufonke, and Timbuktu areas. Refugee numbers in Burkina and Niger are static.

UNHCR believes that reconciliation efforts are urgently needed, together with efforts to combat impunity, to encourage peaceful coexistence between communities, to help long-term stabilization and security and to prevent Mali's displacement crisis from becoming more protracted. We are at present planning support for reconciliation in areas of displacement and returns, as well as in refugee camps.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bamako: Helene Caux on mobile +223 61 77 77 44 / +221 77 333 1291
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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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.

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