UNHCR chief warns of the dangers of inaction over Mali

News Stories, 5 September 2012

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Rokiyatou, 8, and her friend Fadimata, 10, fled their homes in Gossi, in northern Mali, last February. They and their families found refuge at Damba camp in Burkina Faso.

GENEVA, September 5 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has urged the international community to step up efforts for a political solution to the Mali crisis, warning that the whole region could be affected unless stronger action is taken.

"Mali now matters more than ever," Guterres stressed in an op-ed run Tuesday in The New York Times. He noted that the beleaguered African nation was no longer some isolated place of myth that could be ignored and wrote that "political crisis and state fragmentation in Mali are a significant threat to political stability in the region."

The multiple crises unfolding in and around Mali, he wrote, were "shaped by an intersection of trends that resonate far beyond the region." These included food insecurity and desertification linked to climate change, incomplete democratization processes marked by social exclusion, and a growing population of young people with poor employment prospects.

Guterres warned the Mali crisis, if left unchecked, could "create an arc of instability extending west into Mauritania and east through Niger, Chad and Sudan to the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden." Calling for an early resolution, he called for greater international support for those national and regional actors who are working to secure a political settlement and deal with complex security issues. He also urged that the response to the humanitarian crisis be expanded and not allowed to slip off the international agenda at a time when attention is on events in Syria.

Mali was plunged into turmoil at the start of this year, when fighting erupted between a Tuareg rebel movement and Malian government forces. The government in Bamako was ousted by coup in April while the northern region is now under the control of Islamists. More than 450,000 people have since fled their homes in Mali, with over 265,000 seeking shelter in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

All this comes at a time of drastic food and water shortages in the Sahel region. UNHCR is working to help the displaced throughout the region as well as trying to alleviate the burden on host communities.

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Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Malians still fleeing to Niger

Malian refugees continue to arrive in Niger, fleeing fighting and general insecurity and political instability in their country. At the Mangaizé refugee site in northern Niger, some 3,000 refugees live in difficult conditions, bearing soaring temperatures during the day and wondering when they will be able to return home. The scarce water and food resources in the arid Sahel country also present a huge challenge for the refugees and local communities. More than 40,000 Malians have found refuge in Niger since January, when fighting erupted between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces. More than 160,000 Malians have arrived in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, while 133,000 are displaced within their country. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Niger, including Mangaizé, in early May with World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin to help focus world attention on the crisis and to seek help for the displaced.

Malians still fleeing to Niger

Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks met with Malian refugees in Damba Camp on July 6, 2012, in northern Burkina Faso. The acclaimed soprano is using the visit to highlight the plight of tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from conflict in their country this year and are living in camps or settlements in neighbouring countries. As of early July, more than 198,000 Malians had fled to Mauritania (88,825), Burkina Faso (65,009) and Niger (44,987). At least 160,000 were estimated to be displaced within Mali, most in the north.

Barbara Hendricks visits Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

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