UNHCR urges speeding of preparations for refugee vote in Mali elections

Briefing Notes, 23 July 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With the first round of Mali's presidential elections scheduled for this Sunday (July 28th), UNHCR is continuing preparations with the Malian authorities and neighbouring states for out-of-country voting for refugees. Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger host some 173,000 Malian refugees who fled their country when conflict erupted in January 2012.

UNHCR's role in the elections is about caring for the rights of refugees by facilitating their participation and ensuring the voluntariness of the electoral process in a safe environment. Our role is humanitarian and non-political. In June, we conducted formal and informal surveys in major refugee areas through discussion groups. 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.

Our teams in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania have been meeting with refugee communities to clearly explain our role in facilitating participation and respecting neutrality. We have helped transport some election-related materials. However, transportation of sensitive materials, such as voters' cards or ballots papers, will be the responsibility of the Malian electoral authorities and the countries of asylum.

Malian authorities visited refugee camps and other sites in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger in June to establish willingness to vote. In total 19,020 refugees have voluntarily registered to take part, out of 73,277 refugees of voting age (18 and above). Names were then verified against the biometric civil registry (RAVEC Recensement Administratif à Vocation d'Etat Civil) 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. In Burkina Faso, and according to Malian registration teams, 876 out of the 3,504 registered refugees were found in the RAVEC; 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.

As concerning, are reports that only a few NINA (Numéro d'Identification nationale) voting cards have so far been provided by Malian authorities to refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In Burkina Faso for instance, only 32 NINA cards have at this point reached the Malian representation. The delay in the issuance and distribution of NINA cards is not specific to refugees but is also impacting many Malian citizens within Mali as well as abroad.

It is important that the Malian authorities quickly make public the voters' lists and speed distribution of the electoral cards in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania. 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. The Malian authorities have informed us that they are considering alternatives to allow refugees to vote in case of further delays.

173,593 Malians have found refuge in neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict in January 2012, including 49,975 in Burkina Faso, 48,710 in Niger, 74,907 in Mauritania and 1,500 in Algeria. 353,000 persons are also internally displaced according to our partner the Commission de Mouvement de Population in Mali.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dakar, Hélène Caux (Regional) on mobile + 221 77 333 1291
  • In Burkina Faso, Stéphane Jaquemet on mobile +226 66 01 42 81
  • In Niger, Karl Steinacker on mobile+ 227 92 19 31 46
  • In Mauritania, Ann Maymann on mobile +222 02 29 39 353
  • In Mali, Sebastien Apatita on mobile + 223 74 20 11 66
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Mali Crisis: Urgent Appeal

More than 300,000 Malians have been forced to abandon homes in the hope of finding safety. Help us protect them.

Donate to this crisis

UNHCR Mauritania Fact Sheet

(French only, available on UNHCR's French website)

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

In May 2013, the Nigerian government, responding to a surge in violence in the north-east of the country, declared a state of emergency in the volatile states of Borno, Adawama and Yobe. Many people fled to neighbouring Niger's Diffa region and to the Far North Region of Cameroon. Fresh violence in January this year has forced thousands more to flee to both countries. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux visited the towns of Bosso and Diffa in Niger's Diffa region shortly before the latest influx. She met some of the Nigerian refugees who had fled earlier waves of violence across the border. They told her of the violence they had seen, the losses they had suffered and their attempts to lead as normal a life as possible in Diffa, including sending their children to attend school. They are grateful to the communities that have welcomed and helped them in Niger.

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

The Most Important Thing – Malian Refugees in Burkina Faso

"The Most Important Thing" documents - in words and pictures - some of the tough decisions people face when they have to flee their home. With support from UNHCR, American photographer Brian Sokol began the project in South Sudan, taking portraits of Sudanese refugees carrying the most valuable possession they brought with them into exile. He also asked them to explain their decision. Sokol continued with Syrian refugees in Iraq and in this photo essay looks at Malians in refugee camps in neighbouring Burkina Faso. While the photographs may reveal a fair amount about the subjects, it is their words - their stories - that share far more.

For the Sudanese, the most important things were primarily objects to keep them alive during their long, difficult journey: a pot, an axe, a water jug or a basket. For Syrians, the objects were largely sentimental: an old ring, a torn photograph, the key to a door that may no longer exist. Among the Malians depicted in this photo gallery, the objects largely had to do with their cultural identity. They spoke of how the items helped them to still feel part of their people, despite being forced into exile.

The Most Important Thing – Malian Refugees in Burkina Faso

Relocation from the Border Country of Burkina Faso

The process of relocating refugees from one site to a safer one is full of challenges. In Burkina Faso, the UN refugee agency has been working with partner organizations and the government to move thousands of Malian refugee families away from border sites like Damba to a safer camp some 100 kilometres to the south. Working under hot and harsh conditions, the aid workers had to dismantle shelters and help people load their belongings onto trucks for the journey. The new site at Mentao is also much easier to access with emergency assistance, including shelter, food, health care and education. These images, taken by photographer Brian Sokol, follow the journey made by Agade Ag Mohammed, a 71-year-old nomad, and his family from Damba to Mentao in March. They fled their home in Gao province last year to escape the violence in Mali, including a massacre that left two of his sons, a brother and five nephews dead. As of mid-April 2013 there were more than 173,000 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries. Within the arid West African nation there are an estimated 260,000 internally displaced people.

Relocation from the Border Country of Burkina Faso

Niger: Flight from Nigeria
Play video

Niger: Flight from Nigeria

People escaping the fighting between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram rebels get a friendly welcome in Niger.
Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania Play video

Mauritania: Mali Elections In Mauritania

Hundreds of Malian refugees voted in exile at the weekend in the presidential election in their home country, way down on the numbers eligible to cast a ballot.
Burkina Faso: Election Sunday Play video

Burkina Faso: Election Sunday

Hundreds of Malian refugees voted in exile at the weekend in the presidential election in their home country, way down on the numbers eligible to cast a ballot.