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Malian Refugees Flee Violence in North of Country

February 15, 2012

Kim Lewis | Washington D.C.

Fighting between rebel forces and the Malian army in the northern region of Mali has forced thousands of Malians to flee their homes and head to areas along the border of the country.

The U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says the growing influx of Malian refugees is creating a crisis situation, especially for women and children. As it stands now they are having to cope with extreme living conditions - very hot temperatures during the day and very cold temperatures at night, along with lack of shelter. The agency says though the health situation is relatively stable right now, there are incidences of malaria and other potentially fatal diseases.

Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a UNHCR representative, said there is an influx of Malian people whose main destinations are the border countries of Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.

“The majority of those people fleeing from Mali to go to neighboring countries are Tuaregs. But there are also other Malians and some people who are originally from Niger. So, we have a mixture from Mali and Niger in one place. But the majority are women and children and Tuaregs,” explained Lejeune-Kaba.

The UNHCR has staff in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, and they are in the process of setting up registration for the refugees. However, at present, and with a continuing influx of people, it is hard to get an accurate account of the number, but it is in the thousands.

“It is very difficult to get an estimate right now. In Niger, for example, we are hearing as many as 18,000. In Mauritania, 13,000; Burkina Faso, 8,000. Altogether, we’re talking about way above 30,000, but these are estimates for the time being,” said Lejeune-Kaba, who added, “there are many people waiting on the mountainside of the border and if the situation deteriorates further they are going to cross.”

Despite the horrendous living conditions of the refugees, Lejeune-Kaba says their health condition is stable. “People, while they are in relatively stable health, are suffering from diarrhea, eye infections, malaria, respiratory diseases, as a result of living out in the open where there is no clean water, no soap, or any adequate sanitation facilities, which puts them at risk of spreadable diseases,” said Lejeune-Kaba.

The UNHCR is working with health experts to address the health needs of the Mali Refugees. To hear the complete interview, click on audio.

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