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November 02, 2012

Higher Number of Internally Displaced Malians Revealed

by Kim Lewis

There are more displaced people in northern Mali than previously believed. New data from the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, reveal that at least 204,000 people are currently displaced. Previously, the group reported 119,000 IDPs.  

UNHCR spokesperson Helene Caux said the increase in the reported number of IDPS is a reflection of a number of factors.

“The main factor is that our partner, the Commission on Population Movement in Mali, had better access to areas in northern Mali to be able to count the IDPs, thanks to better funding - which means they had more human resources to go to these places and be able to count the people," said Caux.  "The second reason is that probably more people have been displaced since they left their homes because of the insecurity in the north, so that also explains the difference in the number."

Caux added that because of the insecurity in northern Mali, it is very difficult for aid agencies to access people there.  As a result, UNHCR is getting its information from people who are actually leaving the north, as well as refugees, who are fleeing to Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.

“What these people are telling us is that basically there is general insecurity, that the security is deteriorating.  A lot of them are fleeing in anticipation of possible new fighting between the various groups operating in northern Mali because of the loss of livelihood.  Also, they have nothing to do there, they’ve lost their jobs.  There is limited capacity to have access to basic services.  But also, they fear an imminent military operation in northern Mali,” said Caux.

Another big concern is insecurity in neighboring countries Niger and Burkina Faso, to where many from northern Mali have fled.

“It’s harder and harder for aid workers to be able to access the camps.  There are risks of kidnapping, of abductions.  So that makes it much harder for people like us, UNHCR, but also other aid agencies, to travel freely to refugee camps.  We need armed escorts, which means also more funding to be able to pay armed escorts.  And also, logistically speaking, it’s much heavier to be able to move to the camps with escorts,” explained Caux.

The UNHCR has made a request for $153 million for additional funding for those people displaced as well as for refugees, but so far only 41 percent of that amount has been received from the international community.

“So that means that there are several activities we’re not able to fund, especially education.  Like you know the school has not started yet in the camps, which means because we are not able for the moment to offer proper structures.  So that means the kids, and especially adolescent boys, are left without doing anything.  We are really fearing that, you know, some of them might go back to Mali and get recruited by various armed groups in exchange of money,” said Caux.

For now, the UNHCR continues to work to provide assistance and protection to those fleeing northern Mali, an area overtaken by general insecurity.