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Ramping up northern Mali relief efforts, UN refugee aims to assist thousands newly displaced by violence

29 May 2015 – Across northern Mali, a flare-up in clashes between armed groups has spurred a renewed exodus of people fleeing the violence and their homes, the United Nations refugee agency said today, reporting difficulties in reaching the beleaguered populations with critical humanitarian aid.

"The volatile security situation is hindering access for humanitarian workers to all affected areas and the growing insecurity in the region is making the provision of protection and assistance to the newly-displaced very challenging," William Spindler, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters today at a press briefing in Geneva.

"Many [refugees] are sleeping outdoors and some are staying with friends or relatives," he added. "They report that many women and children are among the displaced, and that they urgently need shelter, water and food."

Despite positive developments on the ground, the situation in Mali has remained a challenge. The country's Government has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012, including a military coup d'état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical Islamists.

According to UNHCR, the latest outburst of hostilities between armed groups in the Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu areas of northern Mali have resulted in some 57,000 people fleeing their homes. The newly-displaced now join the ranks of more than 43,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) throughout the country, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mali to just over 100,000.

As part of the UN agency's immediate response, Mr. Spindler said, relief items are quickly being moved to the Timbuktu area in order to organize the future distribution of kitchen sets, soap, mosquito nets, blankets and plastic sheeting to an estimated 12,000 IDPs located in Gourma Rharous, some 100 kilometres east of Timbuktu. Meanwhile, earlier this week, UNHCR also began deliveries of relief items to more than 1,500 newly displaced people in Goundam.

The renewed fighting in Mali has also prompted an uptick in the number of civilians fleeing to neighbouring countries as UNHCR teams have registered 258 new Malian arrivals in Burkina Faso, 236 in Mauritania and 238 in Niger in recent weeks.

"Although the numbers are still relatively low, this is an extremely worrying development since it shows the degree to which civil strife in Mali is undermining social cohesion," the UNHCR spokesperson continued, noting that until the latest bout of violence, Malian refugees had begun to trickle back to their homes from across the borders.

The agency's latest estimates document some 137,500 Malian refugees in neighbouring countries fuelling fears that until the violence subsides the numbers will continue to grow.

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