Voice of America (Washington, DC)

Mali: 200,000 Remain Displaced

A new report says while the conflict in Mali may be over, there are hundreds of thousands of people still in need of humanitarian aid. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center says many uprooted Malians are now part of the urban poor.

Mali remains in recovery after French-led forces last year defeated armed groups that had taken over the north of the country. The groups had declared the north to be a separate Islamic state under strict Sharia laws. They destroyed many cultural and historic sites.

The IDMC says many internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Mali have been forgotten.

"Things are slowly, but steadily, improving. We're now down from a peak of 350,000 internally displaced people in June of 2013. And there are currently roughly 200,000 internally displaced people, who have fled the violence in the north during Mali's crisis. What IDMC is trying to call attention to is this nearly 50-percent of the internally displaced population who have been left behind in Mali's southern cities with ever growing needs," said Elizabeth Rushing is the group's country analyst for West Africa.

Most of Mali's IDPs in the south - about 46,000 - are in the capital Bamako. The rest are in Koulikoro, Segou, Sikasso and Mopti.

She said, "Many of them have been there for nearly two years now. They're hungry. They can't feed their children. They don't have any money. And a lot of them have no safe or secure place to live. We met with numerous internally displaced people, who couldn't pay their rent. A lot of them had been forced to sell all of their goods to pay for the ticket to come to the safer places in the south - which meant they weren't able to restart their livelihoods upon arrival."

Many, she said, suffered psychological trauma from what they witnessed in northern Mali.

Rushing said the south is becoming - what she calls -- a humanitarian void.

"Humanitarian aid has by no means stopped, but what we're seeing is really a focus on the north at the expense of the south of Mali. This focus on the north is understandable because this was the region that was hardest hit during the crisis. But there is a risk of increasing vulnerability if these people, who choose or do not have any other option or for whatever reason are staying in the south, do not continue to get medium to longer term support."

The government has encouraged IDPs to return to the north - although there's still some insecurity there. Rushing said that humanitarian groups have been pressured to follow the government's lead and shift budgetary priorities to the north.

While most of the violence has stopped, IDPs face a different problem. Rushing described it as a "legal limbo." She said they may not know their rights under the Kampala Convention -- a regional African agreement that requires governments to provide them legal protection.

"They have three settlement options," she said, "One is to return back to their homes from which they originated. The second is to integrate locally where they find themselves living in displacement. And the third is to settle elsewhere in the country. And the Kampala Convention enshrines all three of these rights. And Mali has ratified and is thus legally bound by the Kampala Convention."

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center said too much emphasis is being placed on the return option. It's sending a team to Mali soon to raise awareness about IDP rights and to lobby for sustained assistance for those who - for whatever reason - remain in the south.

The IDMC's briefing paper is entitled: Left Behind: IDPs forgotten in Mali's southern cities.

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