Dakar — The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that clashes over the weekend between the French-backed Malian army and Al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups in northern and central Mali have resulted in new population displacement - both within Mali and into neighbouring countries.
In Niger, UNHCR teams are reporting that 450 refugees arrived on Friday and Saturday in the west of the country at Mangaize camp (north of Ouallam), Banibangou and Tillabery towns as well as in the Tillia area. "Refugees are telling us they fled the ongoing military intervention, the absence of subsistence opportunities and basic services, and the imposition of Sharia law," spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
In Burkina Faso, 309 people have arrived in camps in the north and north-east, including in Damba and Mentao camps, as well as in Bobo Dioulasso.
In Mauritania, 471 Malian refugees have reportedly arrived at the Fassala reception centre near the Malian border. They will be transported further away from the border to the Mbera camp, which is already hosting some 54,000 Malian refugees who were displaced in 2012.
Ninety per cent of the new arrivals are women and children from the Lere area in Mali. "UNHCR has updated its contingency planning in case of new major potential influxes to neighbouring countries and new displacements in Mali, and we are ready to respond with assistance as needed," Edwards said.
He added that details on the displacement situation inside Mali were less clear. "According to our partner, the Commission on Populations Movements in Mali - and based on mixed reliability information sources - 648 people arrived in [the capital] Bamako from the north between January 10 and 13, [some] 360 arrived in Segou and 226 arrived in Mopti from the Timbuktu region."
He added that to the north of Mopti, at Konna, around 5,000 people (or half the Konna population) are reported to have fled the town across the River Niger, and are staying among the local community.
In Mopti itself, the situation is said to have calmed. Currently, access to new areas of displacement in the north remains impossible because of the security situation. A number of residents of Mopti and the nearby town of Sevare fled last week to Bamako via Segou, which has been hosting some 30,000 internally displaced people.
In Bamako, which is host to some 52,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), many IDPs are struggling to make ends meet. UNHCR staff recently spoke to displaced families who are struggling to pay their monthly rent.
Many families live in small dilapidated rooms with no electricity or direct access to water. They generally lack enough space to accommodate all family members. The needs for money, food and shelter are huge and UNHCR is working with partners on income-generation activities to help ease the situation.
"Meanwhile, we are continuing to assist those refugees who are in camps in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania by providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene structures, health care and education," spokesman Edwards said.
In Burkina Faso, UNHCR has relocated close to 5,000 Malian refugees from Ferrerio and Gandafabou sites, close to the Mali border, to a safer camp at Goudebou, which is located further inland near the city of Dori. An additional 13,500 refugees should be relocated in the coming weeks from the border area to safer camps. In Niger, UNHCR staff continue to register individual refugees to improve reliability of data and information on needs.
On the funding front, UNHCR has only received 63 per cent (US$77.4 million) of the US$123 million the agency is seeking for its operations to help Malian refugees and IDPs.
The total number of Malian refugees in the region is 144,500, with some 54,100 in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, 38,800 in Burkina Faso and 1,500 in Algeria. Small groups are also in Guinea and Togo. The internally displaced population inside Mali (including people displaced last year, and those newly displaced in the past week) was estimated by Mali's Commission on Population Movements at 228,918 - principally in Bamako, Segou, Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Mopti as of Monday.