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More Malians Flee to Mauritania

Joe DeCapua

There’s a growing number of Malian refugees in neighboring Mauritania. Most are being taken to a camp about 30 kilometers from the border. However, a medical aid group says there’s an increasing demand at the camp for clean water and sanitation.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, says Malians have been crossing the border since January to escape ongoing fighting.

“There are more than 57,000 Malians [who have] arrived in Mauritania,” said Rosa Crestani, the group’s Emergency Desk manager.

Early this month, several hundred refugees a day were crossing the border. But that number has risen sharply.

“For example, three days ago we had 1,500 new arrivals in only one day. So it’s quite a big issue for us, also for everybody with these numbers of people escaping Mali,” said Crestani.

The refugees receive initial assistance at Fassala, about 3 kilometers from the Mali border. From there, they travel 27 kilometers to the U.N.-run Mbera refugee camp.

“At the beginning, the majority of the refugees were coming by cars and so on. The last arrivals – they are coming more and more with trucks and by foot. So they are quite tired and the general condition is certainly not good,” she said.

Since February, MSF has conducted about 8,500 healthcare consultations in Fassala and Mbera.

Crestani said, “The majority of these refugees are women and children. So we are dealing with all the care and problems quite normally in women and children, but especially these respiratory tract infections and diarrhea. Also a lot of skin infections. There are a lot of diseases that are particularly because of the lack of access to water. It’s very hot and sandy, so there are all these diseases that are really common in this kind of situation.”

The medical aid group estimates there currently are only 100 communal latrines for the 57,000 Malian refugees. Also, there’s shortage of clean water – just 9 liters of water per person per day. The humanitarian standard calls for 20 liters.

“It’s the desert. It’s very hot and difficult to find enough water and enough sanitation in the middle of nowhere,” she said.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, and others are working to solve those problems.

What’s more, should any refugee need emergency surgery, the closest surgical hospital is 6 to 9 hours away in Nema. MSF plans to open a surgical center in a town about 30 minutes from the Mbera camp. It’s also planning to increase the number of clinics within the camp from one to three. If the refugee population continues to grow, the camp may be expanded.

MSF also says the local population around the Mbera camp is feeling the stress of the many new arrivals. So, it’s also providing medical care for them.

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