MALI - BURKINA FASO

Malian refugees face dire conditions in Burkina Faso

 As fighting rages on between Tuareg rebels and the army in northern Mali, refugees are fleeing by the thousands to neighbouring countries. Our Observer spent four days in two refugee camps in northern Burkina Faso, where no aid has yet arrived.

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As fighting rages on between Tuareg rebels and the army in northern Mali, refugees are fleeing by the thousands to neighbouring countries. Our Observer spent four days in two refugee camps in northern Burkina Faso, where no aid has yet arrived.

 

The Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad started fighting against the Malian army in mid-January. They demand independence for the Azawad region, which stretches hundreds of kilometres from western to northern Mali. The rebels have attacked several cities in the north of the country, and now control the city of Tinzawatene, near the border with Algeria.

 

This violence has caused a mass exodus of the local population, predominantly Tuaregs. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at least 30,000 people have been displaced within Mali by the conflict. Thousands of others have fled the country to find refuge in Niger (about 15,000 people, according to the ICRC), in Mauritania, and in Burkina Faso (respectively, about 9,000 and 3,000 people, according to the UN Human Rights Council).

 

Teams from the UN Human Rights Council and the ICRC are currently coordinating with local authorities in these countries to help the refugees. However several refugee camps have not yet received any aid. In northwestern Burkina Faso, in the camps of Djibo and Gandafadou, nearly 15,000 people are trying to survive despite a dire lack of food and basic necessities.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Observer, Assan Midal, took these photos of refugee camps in northwest Burkina Faso last week.

“They told us that aid would be on its way, but we don’t know when it will arrive”

Assan Midal is a tour guide based in the Malian capital Bamako. Last week, he spent several days in refugee camps in northwestern Burkina Faso. He then travelled to the country’s capital Ouagadougou, from where he was able to send us photos he took in the camps.

 

I saw entire families arriving on camelback, on carts drawn by donkeys, and also by car, by motorbike and by foot. Most of them fled Mali without bringing any of their belongings with them; they just brought a few blankets which they use for shelter at night. There’s a well in each of these two camps, but there isn’t enough water for everybody. Some people brought some grains, but there is a severe shortage of food. Many of the children are very weak following their strenuous journey [lasting several days for some], and the strong wind and all the dust at the camps doesn’t help matters.

 

Policemen came to assess the situation at the Djibo camp. They told us aid would soon be on its way, but the refugees still don’t know when it will arrive. A local television crew also visited the camp. Apart from these visits, the refugees have been cut off from the outside world. As they wait for help to arrive, they’ve had to organise themselves. They chose representatives in each camp to count how many people were living there and assess their needs. They have also gathered wood with which to build cabins.

 

The vast majority of the people in the camps are Tuareg. They fled Mali because they are afraid of reprisals [ever since the beginning of the conflict, some Malians have confused Tuareg civilians with the rebels.] As far as I know, these people have not been physically attacked, but they have been threatened. It’s been very distressing for them to receive threats from neighbours with whom they previously coexisted peacefully.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Observer, Assan Midal, took these photos of refugee camps in northwest Burkina Faso last week. 

 

 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.