Conditions Facing Malian Refugees in Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso

In April, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins san frontieres estimated the number of people displaced by the fighting in northern Mali at 260,000 – roughly half of them inside Mali, and roughly half in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger. A May estimate from the same  group put the number of refugees outside Mali at 160,000, while another estimate from the United Nations has   the numbers at 64,000 refugees in Mauritania, 61,000 in Burkina Faso, 41,000 in Niger, and 30,000 in Algeria.

Despite the efforts of governments and relief agencies, the refugee crisis poses severe problems for a region already wracked by drought. Coming rains, ironically, may cause difficulties in sheltering refugees. Climate Wire warns of a potential “breaking point,” when food-stressed local communities would begin to oppose giving resources to refugees. The situation is a humanitarian crisis.

Here are some excerpts from news reports on how refugees are faring in Mali’s neighbors.

Mauritania:

Malians sheltered at Camp Mbere [estimated refugee population: 75,000] in northeast Mauritania face food shortages and other troubling realities as more and more displaced victims arrive.

Abou Bakr Ould Sidi and his family were among the first Touaregs to escape fighting between rebels and the army in northern Mali in January.

“Camp Mbere’s guests, displaced by war in northern Mali, are suffering poor conditions and challenges on a daily basis,” Ould Sidi told Magharebia. An allotment of 5 bags of oil, sugar, 4 kg of rice and a few bags of peanuts per person per week was not enough to prevent malnutrition, he added.

UNHCR, the Mauritanian Commissariat of Food Security and the International Fund for Food Security are all working to address these problems.

More on Mbere, with photographs, here.

Burkina Faso:

More than 60,000 refugees have fled Mali’s troubled north to Burkina Faso, where nearly three million people are already facing dangerous food shortages after poor rains and a failed harvest this year. The compound crises are straining relief efforts for the refugees, as well as local communities.

In northern Burkina Faso, near the Malian border, thousands of refugees have settled here in Mentao Camp, including Basséta Waleta Sidi and her family.

“We fled the violence and the killing in Mali. We are safe now, but the future is uncertain,” said Sidi.

Aid organizations are supplying food and medical attention. But Sidi, who has one child and is seven months pregnant with another, is worried about malnutrition.

“All we eat here is rice and oil, which we are not used to,” added Sidi. “And the amount is not enough, even for one child.”

Many refugee children in Burkina Faso also lack access to schools. For more on Burkina Faso, see this important but somewhat dated article from March.

Niger:

Already hard hit by a poor growing season in 2011-2012, with rain at the wrong time and in all the wrong places, the population of North Tillabéry in Niger now has to share its meagre resources with the many refugees arriving from Mali.

According to the authorities in Niger, more than 30,000 Malians from the Ménaka area and an estimated 8,000 Niger nationals living in Mali have found refuge in Niger since the beginning of the year, fleeing the fighting between government forces and armed groups.

Amanita Walid, from Ménaka, arrived in Niger with nothing but the clothes on her back. Members of her family and other people she knew ended up scattered across several sites. Despite the difficulties, she had a genuine sense of security: “The real change when we arrived here was not hearing any more gunfire.”

The group Plan International has produced a video on Malian refugees in Niger. I leave you with that: