GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. refugee agency reports the Mauritanian Government is issuing birth certificates to thousands of Malian refugee children who were born in Mbera camp, conferring important legal protections upon them.
Refugee children who lack a birth certificate more often than not are considered as stateless. They have no identity. Legally, they do not exist and are stripped of basic rights.
The U.N. refugee agency welcomes the decision by the Mauritanian authorities to issue birth certificates for some 7,600 Malian children born in Mbera, a sprawling refugee camp along the Malian border in southeastern Mauritania.
UNHCR spokeswoman, Cecile Pouilly, called the Mauritanian Government's certification of these births a ground-breaking development for refugee protection in the country.
"They have also set up a system allowing for all newborns in the camp to be directly registered from now on. This is good news because it will help us fight against early and forced marriages and it is also important if at one point people are able to repatriate on a voluntary basis, of course, and when security allows," she said.
Since birth certificates provide proof of age, Pouilly said this can be crucial in identifying cases of early and forced marriages. This, she notes also will allow aid agencies to assist children at risk.
Around 52,000 Malian refugees live in Mbera camp. It was established in 2012 when widespread insecurity in northern Mali prompted thousands of people to seek refuge in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Aid agencies agree persistent violence in northern Mali is likely to discourage large scale returns any time soon.
In the meantime, the UNHCR and partners continue to provide life-saving assistance in Mbera camp. But, Pouilly indicated this is fast becoming a mission impossible. She said her agency has had absolutely no response to its $20 million appeal for humanitarian operations in Mauritania this year.