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Mali Emergency - Background

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© UNHCR/H.Caux

Hundreds of Thousands in Need

More than 350,000 people have fled their homes in Mali since fighting erupted in the north in January 2012 between a Tuareg rebel movement and Malian government forces. Tens of thousands of them have found refuge in neighbouring Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. Some have also fled to Guinea and Togo. Some 200,000 have sought shelter within Mali.

The Mali crisis deepened when military officers staged a coup d'état in March 2012 followed by the capture of the north by the Tuareg's National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Ansar Dine group. The two declared an Islamic state in the north before falling out in June, when Ansar Dine and other Islamic militant groups took control of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.

People continue to flee political instability, insecurity, widespread human rights abuses, the strict application of Sharia law and the threat of stepped up fighting. The lack of basic services and of employment is also causing population displacement. At the start of December 2012, some 155,000 people had fled the country while about 200,000 were internally displaced.

The refugees and internally displaced are predominantly ethnic Tuareg, but other affected groups include the Peul, Bambara, Djerma, Haussa and Songhai people. Many of the refugees are pastoralists who have taken their cattle with them. They are living in harsh conditions in the host countries, which themselves have limited resources.

The Sahel region countries have been facing a severe drought and food crisis for several months. Some parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger were also hit by devastating floods in 2012. The role of UNHCR and other agencies is crucial in alleviating the burden on the host communities.

UNHCR and the agency's humanitarian aid partners, meanwhile, are working around the clock to provide protection and assistance for all uprooted Malian civilians. This is a major challenge due to funding shortfalls, and UNHCR urges donors to continue contributing to its appeal for US$123.7 million.

The funding shortage is affecting access to education, an important protection tool, for young Malian refugees in the neighbouring countries. Despite the financial problems, UNHCR and its partners are determined that food and non-food items reach the vulnerable and ensure their well-being.

The Revised Appeal: UNHCR Emergency response appeal for the Mali situation 2012

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Mali Crisis: Urgent Appeal

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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

Mauritania: Learning in the DesertPlay video

Mauritania: Learning in the Desert

UNHCR works to give children access to education while they are living in exile.
Mali: Fleeing the NorthPlay video

Mali: Fleeing the North

Fighting since March between Malian government forces and Tuareg rebels in northern Mali has sent thousands fleeing south to find safety.
Mauritania:  A Desert VisitPlay video

Mauritania: A Desert Visit

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travels to north-west Mauritania to visit some of the world's most isolated refugees.
Niger: Escaping the Conflict in Mali Play video

Niger: Escaping the Conflict in Mali

Hundreds of families have crossed the border from Mali into Niger to escape the fighting in the northern part of the country.
Niger: Going InlandPlay video

Niger: Going Inland

In Sinegodar, near the Mali -Niger border, thousands of people have arrived with little more than they could carry. The urgency is to move them to safer ground.