The humanitarian group – Refugees International – says it’s too soon to send displaced Malians back home. The ngo calls the government move to return them to the north dangerously premature.
Refugees International has released a new report called Hidden and in Need: Urban Displacement in Southern Mali.
Michelle Brown, RI’s Senior Advocate and the group’s representative to the United Nations, said, “The government has been encouraging IDPs to return to the north because, as you know, returns are often very political. IDP and refugee returns show a certain level of stability. And the government is eager to show that they have regained control over the north and that the security threats have diminished. And as we’ve seen that’s not the case.”
It’s estimated most of Mali’s 283,000 displaced people live in the south. But Brown said tens of thousands have returned to the north.
“It’s still not secure enough for widespread returns and basic services are not in place to the level necessary to allow for widespread returns.”
Refugees International bases its findings on comments from Malians who have returned to the north.
“They explain that government officials have not returned to the north in any significant way. You know, they might go to the north for a night and then return to Bamako. And they’re also worried about the level of security. They’re worried about the lack of presence of police. And they believe that in many cases it’s too insecure for them to return,” she said.
Brown said it’s also too dangerous for many displaced women and girls to go back north.
“Many women experience sexual violence in the north. Of course we don’t know the numbers, but in our interviews it was widespread enough to be of a concern. And many women and girls were subject to forced and early marriage to some of the armed actors in the north. So when they came to the south – when they fled to the south – they were extremely traumatized and there were very few services available for them. So very few psychological services -- and healthcare was somewhat limited to respond to the specific health needs of sexual violence,” she said.
She also said many women were forced to have – what she calls – survival sex – to get the resources necessary to feed their families.
Most Malian IDPs in the south, she said, are not in camps, but in rented housing or with host families.
“Basic services are lacking in the south. Most Malians are impoverished and the government has not been able to provide the services that they need. So when you have an influx of IDPs it makes competition for services severe. It leads to an increase in rent – increase in the price of food – increased competition for employment opportunities.”
Brown added that Refugee International and many other humanitarian organizations say the terrorist threat remains very real. Three al Qaeda-linked groups invaded northern Mali last year. It took French-led intervention to drive out the militias from Gao and many other places. However, insecurity remains a problem and periodic attacks still occur.