With the first round of Mali’s presidential elections scheduled for Sunday, the United Nations refugee agency is calling on Malian authorities to quickly make public voters’ lists and speed up distribution of electoral cards in neighbouring States for out-of-country voters.
“This is especially important as refugee camps and sites are located in remote areas, where access may become difficult with the rainy season now settling in,” UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.
He added that the Malian authorities have said they are considering alternatives to allow refugees to vote in case of further delays.
Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger host some 173,000 refugees who fled Mali in the wake of a northern rebellion of ethnic Tuareg groups and a violent insurgency of Islamist extremists which displaced hundreds of thousands over the past year.
UNHCR's role in the elections is to facilitate their participation and ensure the voluntary nature of the electoral process in a safe environment.
“Our role is humanitarian and non-political only,” Mr. Edwards stressed, adding that the refugee agency in June conducted formal and informal surveys in major refugee areas through discussion groups and to explain the UN agency’s neutrality in the process.
“The surveys found that refugees were generally in favour of being included in the elections, that they have good awareness of the situation in Mali, and that some believe the elections will help peace and stability – a fundamental condition for many refugees in deciding whether to return to their country,” he said.
In total, 19,020 refugees have voluntarily registered to take part, out of 73,277 refugees aged 18 and above. Names were then verified against the biometric civil registry, which was last updated in 2011 and used to establish the electoral lists.
“UNHCR is concerned that only a low number of names of refugees interested in voting were found in the registry,” Mr. Edwards said.
In Burkina Faso, and according to Malian registration teams, 876 out of the 3,504 registered refugees were found in the civil registry; 8,409 out of 11,355 registered refugees in Mauritania, and 932 out 4,161 registered refugees in Niger.
“In other words, only around half the refugees who have volunteered to take part in the election have so far been found in the registry,” summarized Mr. Edwards.
In addition, there are reports that Malian authorities have only provided a few Numéro d’Identification national (NINA) voting to refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger representation, UNHCR said.