Ahead of visit to region, UN refugee chief calls for more support for displaced Malians

A mother and her children who fled to Damba from Gossi. Photo: UNHCR/H. Caux

31 July 2012 – A United Nations top official today urged the international community to boost its support for the hundreds of thousands of Malian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries due to recent violence.

At the start of a three-day visit to Burkina Faso to review the situation for Malian refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, also appealed to donors to provide funding for the increasingly critical situation refugees face, and urged countries to help find a political solution to the crisis in the Western African country.

In January, fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels resumed in northern Mali. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region and political instability in the wake of a coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. Some 167,000 Malians are estimated to be internally displaced.

In addition, humanitarian organizations estimate that there are currently some 18 million people facing food insecurity in the western part of African’s Sahel region, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and includes countries such as Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and the northern regions of Cameroon and Nigeria.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that, in addition to the regional crisis, more than 10 million people are in need of emergency assistance due to erratic rainfall, failed harvests, high food prices and conflict.

The visit to Burkina Faso will be Mr. Guterres’ second to the region, and he will be accompanied by the US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Anne C. Richard. Mr. Guterres visited Niger in early May, in an effort to draw attention to the region’s refugee crisis.

While in Burkina Faso, Mr. Guterres will visit the Damba refugee camp in the country’s north, which is host to ethnic Tuaregs, Arabs and Peuls, Bambaras and Songhais who fled from the area of Gossi in Mali’s Timbuktu region.

At a media briefing in Geneva today, a UNHCR spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, said that the agency has been struggling to cover the needs of refugees due to extremely low funding.

“Despite a recent $10 million donation from the United States and contributions from other donors, the refugee agency has only received one third of the funds it requires to assist uprooted Malians,” Ms. Fleming told reporters.

She noted that UNHCR has only received $49.9 million out of the $153 million requested, with the US Government having provided $27 million.

The funds are being used to provide access to clean water, latrines and health services, which are crucial for the treatment and prevention of common diseases such as diarrhea, respiratory infections and cholera epidemics.


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