UNHCR reinforces assistance to refugee hosting countries, ahead of Mali elections

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

With a month to go before the 28 July presidential elections in Mali UNHCR is strengthening its role in helping neighbouring countries deal with out-of-country voting for Malian refugees.

Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania together host 175,000 Malian refugees from the recent conflict there. Refugees eligible to vote in exile are people already registered in the Malian Administrative Civil Status Census done in 2010.

UNHCR is supporting the participation of refugees in these elections, although our role is limited to a strictly humanitarian and non-political one. We are providing refugees with practical information on their right to participate in the elections and we are also providing some transportation.

In Burkina Faso, we have undertaken awareness campaigns in all refugee camps (Goudoubo, Mentao and Sag-nioniogo), as well as spontaneous refugee sites (Dibissi, Tin Hedja, Deou and Gountouré Gnégné) and in urban settings with concentration of refugees (Bobo-Dioulasso, Ouagadougo and Ouahigouya).

Voting will be on a voluntary basis and refugees are being informed accordingly. We are letting people know that personal information and data held by UNHCR is not being shared with the Malian government, and advising on steps to take should people come under pressure from any person or party involved in the election.

Between last Tuesday (25 June) and today, and with UNHCR logistics, transportation, and translation support, ten Malian teams deployed by the Malian Embassy have started registering refugees for the vote. Of 49,945 refugees in camps and spontaneous sites, 18,409 are of voting age (age 18 and above). The registration process is being monitored by Burkina Faso's national refugee commission CONAREF (Commission nationale pour les refugies). Participation of refugees in registration was low at first but has since picked up. Registration figures should be available in the next days. The names of those who registered will be transmitted to the Bamako authorities so that their electoral cards can be sent to Burkina Faso and then distributed to the refugees.

Similar arrangements are in place in Niger and Mauritania.

In Niger, which is hosting some 50,000 Malian refugees, teams from the Malian Consulate have registered voters in the Mangaize and Tabareybarey camps. The exercise is continuing in the Abala camp, as well as in the Intekan and Tassalit refugee hosting areas (in the Tahoua region), with UNHCR logistics support.

In Mauritania, which hosts 75,000 Malian refugees in Mbera camp, preparations for the registration of Malian voters are on-going. Consultations between the Mauritanian authorities, the Malian embassy in Nouakchott and UNHCR are continuing. UNHCR is providing logistics support.

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 Dakar: Helene Caux (Regional) on mobile + 221 77 333 1291
  • In Burkina Faso: Hugo Reichenberger on mobile + 226 65 50 47 86
  • In Niger: Charlotte Arnaud on mobile + 227 92 19 19 03
  • In Mauritania: Dalia Al Achi (regional, Tunis) on mobile + 216 58 33 51 18
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83



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

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

In May 2013, the Nigerian government, responding to a surge in violence in the north-east of the country, declared a state of emergency in the volatile states of Borno, Adawama and Yobe. Many people fled to neighbouring Niger's Diffa region and to the Far North Region of Cameroon. Fresh violence in January this year has forced thousands more to flee to both countries. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux visited the towns of Bosso and Diffa in Niger's Diffa region shortly before the latest influx. She met some of the Nigerian refugees who had fled earlier waves of violence across the border. They told her of the violence they had seen, the losses they had suffered and their attempts to lead as normal a life as possible in Diffa, including sending their children to attend school. They are grateful to the communities that have welcomed and helped them in Niger.

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

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

Alternatives to Camps in NigerPlay video

Alternatives to Camps in Niger

Niger: Flight from Nigeria
Play video

Niger: Flight from Nigeria

People escaping the fighting between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram rebels get a friendly welcome in Niger.
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.