High Commissioner Guterres visiting Burkina Faso, calls for more support to Mali refugees

Briefing Notes, 31 July 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 31 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Note to Palais media: You are invited to attend a joint press conference by High Commissioner Antonio Guterres and Assistant Secretary Anne C. Richard on Friday, 03 August in 11:30 Press Room III. They will offer insights from their visit and into the Mali crisis in general. They will also respond to questions on other acute emergency situations such as South Sudan and Syria.

UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres is starting a three-day visit to Burkina Faso today to review the increasingly critical humanitarian situation for over 100,000 Malian refugees and its impact on neighbouring countries.

Mr. Guterres will be accompanied by Ms. Anne C. Richard, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Since the conflict began in January, over 250,000 Malians have fled to neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger while an additional 167,000 Malians are estimated to be internally displaced. Compounding the regional crisis, it is estimated that over 10 million people are in need of emergency assistance due to erratic rainfall, failed harvests, high food prices and conflict.

On Wednesday Mr. Guterres and Ms. Richard will visit the Damba refugee camp in the North. The camp is hosting mainly ethnic Tuareg (80%), as well as Arabs (15%) and Peuls, Bambaras and Songhais who fled from the area of Gossi in the Timbuktu region.

This is Mr. Guterres' second visit to the Sahel region in a bid to rally international support for the neglected refugee crisis. In early May, he visited Niger where he appealed for donors to provide funding for the Malian refugees in the region. He also urged the international community to find political solutions to the Mali situation before it becomes a global security threat.

UNHCR has been struggling to cover the needs of refugees due to extremely low funding. Despite a recent $US 10 million donation from the USA and contributions from other donors, the refugee agency has only received one third of the funds it requires to assist uprooted Malians. Out of the $US153 millions requested, UNHCR has so far only received $US 49.9 million, or 32.4%. To date the US government has contributed $US 27 million for the Malian refugees.

In the inhospitable Sahel environment, access to clean water, latrines and health services is crucial for the treatment and prevention of common diseases (diarrhea, respiratory infections) or cholera epidemics. Other services such as schooling in the camps are also severely limited due to lack of funds.

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