UNHCR upping assistance to Malian refugees across the Sahel

Briefing Notes, 20 March 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 20 March 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is boosting assistance to the thousands of Malians who have been uprooted by fighting between Tuareg rebels of the Mouvement National de Libération de l'Azawad and Malian forces since mid-January. With ongoing instability in northern Mali, we continue to see tens of thousands of people displaced into Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, as well as internally within Mali.

60 tonnes of relief, including blankets, mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting are currently being trucked from our warehouse in Accra, Ghana, to Niger as well as 52 tonnes to Burkina Faso. Last week, 35 tonnes of relief assistance items were delivered to Niger and 10 tonnes to Burkina Faso from our stockpile in Douala Cameroon. The most pressing needs remain shelter, clean water, healthcare, and basic household items.

Yesterday in Mauritania, we completed the relocation of 39,390 refugees from the border to Mbera camp. Relocation is ongoing in Burkina Faso and in Niger, where over the weekend we organized the transfer of more than 2,000 Malian refugees who had been staying in Sinegodar, at the volatile Niger-Mali border, to a safer refugee camp further inland in Abala. At Abala we have installed some 500 tents with our partners and set up the main facilities and services, including water trucking, for newly transferred families. Refugees staying in other sites at the border, such as in Miel, Kizamu Tigizefane and Abala city, are being sensitized by our teams on the possible transfers to safer refugee location in Abala camp. The site in Abala has a hosting capacity of 10,000 persons.

Meanwhile in Burkina Faso, some 740 refugees who were in transit locations at the Mali border in Oudalan and Soum provinces have been moved to sites located further inland. Transportation was organized by UNHCR and its governmental partner CONAREF (Commission Nationale pour les Réfugiés). Potential new arrivals from Mali 60 to 100 a day according to the authorities are now just passing through the transit points at the border and continuing their way directly to the proper refugee sites of Ferrerio, Gandafobou, Mentao or Damba. Access to water remains of concern in these Sahelian regions of northern Burkina Faso: While local populations have shared their wells and water resources with the refugees up to now, aid agencies, including UNHCR, have also started to install bladders and have trucked water to the refugee sites. Many refugees have brought their cattle from Mali which is also putting a strain on water resources.

Meanwhile in Mali, thousands of people are internally displaced, mainly in Gao province. Most are staying in nomadic settlements and have fled their cities or villages for fear of renewed fighting. Hundreds of people have reportedly fled the city of Tessalit after it was taken by the rebels two weeks ago and have arrived in Gao. Refugees in neighbouring countries and IDPs in Mali have told our teams that they are willing to return to their homes, but only when peace is restored.

For further information on this topic, please contact: