UN refugee agency steps up assistance to thousands uprooted by Mali conflict

Tuareg rebels near the Sahara desert.
IRIN/Phuong Tran
Tuareg rebels near the Sahara desert.

UN refugee agency steps up assistance to thousands uprooted by Mali conflict

The United Nations refugee agency is increasing its assistance to the tens of thousands of Malians who have been uprooted by the fighting between the army and Tuareg rebels, including providing shelter, clean water, and healthcare to camps in neighbouring countries.

According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards, 60 tons of relief items such as blankets, mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting are being transported to Niger as well as 52 tons to Burkina Faso, in addition to the 35 tons and 10 tons that were delivered last week, respectively.

Mr. Edwards told reporters in Geneva that UNHCR is also working on relocating refugees in various locations.

“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,” he said, adding that refugees staying at other sites may possibly be transferred to safer locations.

Mr. Edwards also stated that 740 refugees staying in transit locations at the Mali border have been moved to safer refugee sites in collaboration with Burkina Faso authorities.

“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,” he said.

Access to water is a major concern in the Sahel region, Mr. Edwards said, adding that while local populations have shared their wells with refugees, aid agencies have also started to install bladders and have transported water to refugee sites as the increase in refugees – many of whom have brought their cattle with them – is putting a strain on water resources.

Mr. Edwards also stressed that in addition to refugees in other countries, there are thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) mainly in Mali’s Gao province. “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,” Mr. Edwards said.

Last month, UNHCR appealed for $35.6 million to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis as the overall number of people who have crossed from Mali into neighbouring countries now stands at close to 80,000, according to official tallies.