UNHCR supports participation of refugees in upcoming Mali elections

Briefing Notes, 28 May 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 28 May 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With the first round of presidential elections in Mali due on July 28, consultations are under way between the interim Malian government and refugee hosting countries on including refugee populations in the voting. These consultations are expected to be followed by bilateral agreements that will form the basis of the electoral process in each of the main refugee-hosting countries.

While details of the out-of-country electoral process are still being worked out, UNHCR is ready to facilitate the exercise by refugees of their right to vote.

Some 174,000 Malians have found refuge in neighbouring countries since current conflict erupted in the northern part of their country in January 2012. Burkina Faso hosts 50,000 refugees, Mauritania 74,000 and Niger 50,000. Smaller groups of Malian refugees are also in Algeria.

UNHCR supports the voluntary participation of refugees in these elections, although our role will be limited to a strictly humanitarian and non-political one. In conjunction with refugee-hosting countries and refugees, we will facilitate space for dialogue on the electoral process, and for registration of voters. It is expected that registration of voters in camps and outside camps will be the responsibility of the Malian electoral commission, who will work with host governments to establish voting lists.

On UNHCR's part, we will make sure that refugees understand that their participation in the electoral process is voluntary and we shall warn against any pressure or intimidation. We shall also provide practical information on the electoral process to refugees as well as facilitate meetings between refugees in the context of the upcoming elections. UNHCR will work with the asylum countries to ensure a free, fair and secure process.

Discussion of voting locations is on-going, but voter registration and voting itself should in principle take place outside of camp settings. Special arrangements will be made for modalities such as transportation by country authorities to voting stations. Host governments will be responsible for security.

UNHCR has previously facilitated out-of-country voting by refugees in South Sudan in 2011, in Iraq in 2010 and in Afghanistan in 2004.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Niger (on mission), Helene Caux (Regional) on mobile + 221 77 333 1291
  • In Mali, Eduardo Cue on mobile + 223 90 08 19 88
  • In Mauritania, Elise Villechalanne on mobile +22222685551.
  • In Niger, Charlotte Arnaud on mobile + 227 92 19 19 03
  • In Burkina Faso, Hugo Reichenberger on mobile +226 65 50 47 86
  • In Tunisia Dalia Al Achi (covering North Africa) on mobile + 216 58 33 51 18
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile + 41 79 557 9106



UNHCR country pages

Mali Crisis: Urgent Appeal

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

Donate to this crisis

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

Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania Play video

Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania

Hundreds of Malian refugees voted in exile at the weekend in the presidential election in their home country, way down on the numbers eligible to cast a ballot.
Mali: Going Back Home Play video

Mali: Going Back Home

A trickle of displaced Malians undertake the journey back to their towns and villages.
Mali: Waiting to ReturnPlay video

Mali: Waiting to Return

After spending months in the central Mali town of Mopti, hundreds of displaced families are anxious to go back to their homes in the north. But security is still a concern.