Sahel: the fate of 160,000 Malian refugees hanging in the balance
May 13, 2012
Since late January, nearly 160,000 Malians have fled their country for camps in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. While instability persists in Mali, leaving little hope that the refugees can return to their country soon, another imminent threat is looming - the rainy season, which will further complicate the deployment of aid.
According to the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which is assisting Malian refugees in camps in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, the international aid provided to these people is insufficient.
“MSF calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Program (WFP) to increase and speed up the distribution of aid in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger before the rainy season makes aid distribution even more difficult,” says Malik Allaouna, MSF director of operations.
In the makeshift Mauritanian camp of Mbéra, located in the middle of the desert, residents share one latrine for 220 people. They receive only 11 litres of water/person per day and the food distributed by the WFP does not meet the specific nutritional needs of children.
"We received 4 kilograms of rice – the quality is mediocre and it's full of pebbles – two cups of oil and two cups of sugar for 10 days," says one resident of Mbéra camp. "They've given us just a single ration since we arrived."
In Burkina Faso, where MSF is working in four camps, the organisation notes that food supplies are distributed inappropriately. "The same quantity is distributed without regard for the number of people in a family," says Mohamed El Moktar, a refugee at the Gandafabou camp. "We are seven people. After two days, we have nothing left."
These living conditions are significantly below international aid standards and increase the vulnerability of people already weakened by a very long journey. Most of the diseases treated during MSF’s medical consultations in the camps are directly related to these poor living conditions.
At MSF's treatment centre in Mbéra, four out of every 10 people are seen for respiratory infections and two out of 10 for diarrhea. The next most-common complaints are skin infections and childhood malnutrition. Since the organization began working in Mbéra, more than 500 children have been treated for malnutrition.
“Food insecurity is a threat both for the Malian refugees and for the host communities, which are already suffering from poor harvests," adds Mr. Allaouna. “ Only food distribution, in sufficient quantity and quality, will prevent children’s nutritional condition from further deteriorating. ”
In Burkina Faso, MSF is working in the Ferrerio, Gandafabou, Dibissi and Ngatourou-Niénié camps; in Mauritania, in Mbéra, Fassala and Bassikounou; and in Niger, it is active in the communities of Mangaïzé, Abala, Chinagodrar and Yassan.