Mali’s military intervention could create 700 000 refugees

Mali’s military intervention could create 700 000 refugees

 Over 700 000 people could be displaced if military intervention goes ahead next year in northern Mali, the UN humanitarian news service IRIN reports, citing preliminary estimates by humanitarian agencies. IRIN said this will include some 300 000 IDPs (internally displaced people) and 407 000 refugees.

Over 240 000 people have been displaced by insecurity and conflict in Mali’s northern regions, 147 000 of these headed to neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Algeria, according to a USAID-FEWS NET report. Quite a big number of Malians are also thought to have trekked to Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea-Conakry to seek food, peace and relief from the conflict.

And now time is running out for donor countries to boost the coffers of humanitarian organisations working on the ground to help the people of Mali, whose lives are at risk not only from the occupiers’ ‘barbaric’ methods, but also from hunger, thirst and various diseases.  “It’s almost impossible to predict what is going to happen where and when – everything is very broad,”  Philippe Conraud, Oxfam West Africa emergency coordinator, was quoted by IRIN as saying.

A man from Bamako, only identified as Traoré, who has recently arrived in Dakar, Senegal, told Moon of the South that life has become a nightmare in the north, especially in Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal. Bamako is Mali’s capital city and is located some 1200 km north east of Dakar, while the northern regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal have been occupied early this year by three Islamist groups, MNLA, MUJAO and Ansar-Dine (Defenders of Faith). The three rebel groups have since been fighting among themselves for the control of these territories.

“Food prices have soared due to scarcity and uncertainty of the future,” Traoré said. “And in some areas there is no water or medication.”  Oxfam said scarcity of water was making it almost impossible to grow food in Gao, adding that many learners have left school due to lack of water. Cholera has also been ever-present, with aid groups reporting at least 10 deaths out of over 200 cases diagnosed since the beginning of the year. Reports also say floods have this year killed five people, made 9 000 homeless and destroyed nearly 3000 houses.

“On top of that,” Traoré said, “since the news spread that the UN has given the go-ahead for the military intervention, the Islamists have become more and more barbaric with the application of the Sharia law. First of all, they have destroyed more historic monuments and touristic sites, and secondly they are chopping people’s hands and lashing unmarried lovers in public, and also beating up young men for not going to pray at the mosque.”

Furthermore, some observers believe military intervention in Mali will likely worsen the already volatile food and security situation in the Sahel region. Analysts believe Mali’s neighbours will likely shut their borders to avoid vicious heavily armed Islamists from slipping incognito into their countries. This, they say, could block terrified innocent people caught in the war from escaping to seek refuge outside the country.

In the food arena, over 18 million people in the Sahel region are facing food shortages, including some one million malnourished children. Humanitarian groups have recently appealed for 1.6 billion USD to help feed the still-vulnerable people of Sahel in 2013.

UNICEF said recently that it has provided life-saving treatment to 850 000 children across nine countries in the Sahel region from severe acute malnutrition in 2012. “Unfortunately severe acute malnutrition cannot be vaccinated against,” acting UNICEF West Africa director Manuel Fontaine said. “Many children from the poorest families in the Sahel may face cycles that will regularly put their lives in jeopardy,” he added.

*PIC: NICOLE LAWRENCE/UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Mali’s children refugees in Niger

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