Operations to help displaced Malians threatened by low funding – UN refugee agency

10 July 2012

The aid operation to support Malian refugees is threatened by a critically low level of funding, the UN refugee agency said today, adding that it and its partners are struggling to provide a basic level of humanitarian standards for the displaced.

“For UNHCR, only $34.9 million has been received against an appeal for $153 million – that is just 22.7 per cent of the funding needed. Our partners, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also report poor funding levels for refugee operations in the region,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels resumed in northern Mali in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, and political instability in the wake of a coup d'état in March, have uprooted nearly 365,000 people, with many of them fleeing to Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as other parts of Mali.

“UNHCR and partners are struggling to maintain minimum humanitarian standards for the refugees,” Mr. Edwards said. “In some camps in Niger and Burkina Faso refugees have to contend with daily water supplies below the emergency standard of 15 litres per person per day.”

According to UNHCR, more than 15,000 people have arrived in Mauritania in the past month, most of them from the Timbuktu region. The Government and UNHCR have agreed to open a new camp to accommodate the large number of new arrivals, which will be located close to the village of Aghor, which was home to thousands of Malian refugees in the 1990s.

The vast majority of the refugees are women and children. Mr. Edwards said that the lack of funding is having “a profound effect on access to education for refugees in all three countries” – in Mauritania, low funding levels are resulting in only 20 per cent of displaced school-age children having access to education.

In addition, Mr. Edwards warned that access to some camps containing displaced people in Burkina Faso and Niger is becoming more problematic as the rainy season sets in and causes some roads to deteriorate.

Meanwhile, two UN independent experts warned that the recent destruction of various religious sites in Mali signals a “dark future” for the local population, and called on the country’s Government and international community to join efforts to protect the population’s cultural rights.

There have been reports of rebel groups looting historic centres containing thousands of ancient books and documents in Timbuktu, and, two weeks ago, there were reports of the destruction of three sacred tombs – the Mausoleums of Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya – that are part of the Timbuktu site, which was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries.

“These events seem to announce a very dark future for the local populations in Northern Mali,” said the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed. “The destruction of tombs of ancient Muslim saints in Timbuktu, a common heritage of humanity, is a loss for us all, but for the local population it also means the denial of their identity, their beliefs, their history and their dignity.”

“Attacks on places of worship and the desecration of cemeteries violate the rights of not only a single believer, but also the group of individuals forming the community attached to the place in question,” added the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt.

The two experts also expressed concern over information they received saying that a ban on music was issued in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in April. Independent experts, or special rapporteurs – such as Ms. Shaheed and Mr. Bielefeldt – are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Over the past weeks, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, have expressed their concern over the situation in Timbuktu, and condemned the attacks which damaged the mausoleums.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has also condemned the destruction of sites in Mali, and decided on measures to help the West African country, including the creation of a special fund to help it conserve its cultural heritage.

In addition, the Committee also accepted a request from the Government of Mali to place Timbuktu on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which is designed to inform the international community of threats to the outstanding universal values for which a property has been inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to encourage corrective action.


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