Over the past year, the conflict in northern Mali has forced more than 228,000 people to seek refuge in other parts of the country - including some 51,000 who have fled to Bamako, the capital. Without the support networks and other resources they left behind, internally displaced Malians face enormous challenges. High rents in Bamako, for example, compel many of the uprooted to seek shelter in crowded apartments far from the city centre. Limited access to health care, clean water and education makes their situation even more precarious.
Finding work is also incredibly difficult in a new environment where job opportunities typically come through personal or family connections. And so, in suburban neighbourhoods like Sangarébougou, farmers and animal herders now sit idly in unfamiliar apartments, and teachers struggle to find new posts even though local schools are overcrowded.
Hopes of returning home soared in recent weeks as French troops drove the separatists out of population centres like Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Yet northern Mali is still far from safe and secure. Until it is, many displaced Malians will struggle on in Bamako.
War came to Timbuktu last April, when ethnic Tuareg rebels seized the ancient city in northern Mali from government control. It soon fell under the control of militants, who started imposing a strict version of sharia law on the inhabitants. Women were forced to wear veils in public, adulterers were whipped or stoned, thieves had their hands amputated and centuries-old burial chambers were destroyed.
Thousands of people fled from Timbuktu and many sought shelter to the south in the Malian capital, Bamako. Fatima Nialy, a mother of four, joined the flow heading south because she felt like a prisoner in her own house in Timbuktu. In Bamako, she and her children - including a one-month-old son - were taken in by relatives, using a room in her older brother's home.
In February 2013, not long after French and Malian forces liberated Timbuktu, Fatima decided to return home with her children. Photographer Thomas Martinez followed them.
"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.