Mali: A cautious return: Malian IDPs prepare to go home
Thousands of Malians who sought refuge in southern cities during the last year of turmoil are starting to go back north. Others are waiting for reassurance that it is truly safe enough to go home. (Photo: E.J. Rushing, March 2013)
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31 December 2012
Tens of thousands of people were displaced as a result of the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA)’s armed uprising, which it launched on 17 January 2012 in the vast desert area of northern Mali with the aim of creating an independent state. The ill-equipped army retreated quickly, allowing MNLA fighters to make further territorial gains. The army became increasingly discontent with President Amadou Toumani Touré, whom it accused of failing to provide troops with the means to subdue the rebels, and on 22 March a military coup forced him to step down.
The resulting power vacuum enabled MNLA and allied Islamist groups to gain control of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in a matter of days, causing new displacements in the process. Three heavily armed militant groups - al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) - imposed a hardline interpretation of sharia law in areas that fell under their control, prompting more people to flee their homes.
Conflicting objectives, however, drove a wedge between MNLA and the Islamist groups, which eventually led to MNLA being driven out of northern Mali in late June. In early September, MUJAO gained control of Douentza, a town in the government-held Mopti region. From the start of the rebellion, the various armed groups committed gross human rights, including rapes, abductions, summary executions and the recruitment of children. The Islamists also carried out forced marriages, whippings, stonings and amputations in the name of sharia.
By the end of 2012, around 230,000 people had fled within Mali’s borders. In the absence of comprehensive disaggregated data, it is thought a large proportion were women and children. Displacement patterns varied. Most IDPs stayed away from the north, while some went back to work during the rainy season or were tempted back by the relatively high salaries offered by the Islamist groups. Others returned temporarily to assess the situation or to collect relatives left behind in the rush to flee.
IDPs who took refuge in northern Mali did so mainly with host families or out in the open in makeshift shelters. Some settled near the border with Niger in order to benefit from the assistance provided in refugee camps. The education of around 300,000 children was severely disrupted by the looting and destruction of schools and the conversion of others into Koranic institutions. A large-scale food crisis characterised by chronic drought and escalating food prices added to IDPs’ difficulties, though the arrival of rains and the import of staples from Algeria improved the situation in the second half of the year.
More than 140,000 IDPs took refuge in the south, where the majority found shelter with host families. By the end of the year, and particularly in Bamako, an increasing number had rented their own homes with the help of relatives or financial assistance from humanitarian organisations. An unknown number took shelter in Mali’s only displacement camp in Sévaré. Many IDPs in the south lost their sources of income and few had means to start economic activities in their place of displacement, putting a strain on host families’ resources. The average host family in Bamako has 7.4 members, but some were catering for as many as 30 people after the influx of IDPs.
Transitional governments were formed in April and August, and a third was appointed in December following another coup which forced Prime Minister Cheik Modibo Diarra to resign. The Ministry of Solidarity, Humanitarian Action and Older People is responsible for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, but a shortage of financial and technical resources has left the needs of many IDPs unmet. The ministry is part of the Protection Cluster’s Commission on Population Movement, which undertook a tracking exercise during the second half of the year. In December, Mali ratified the Kampala Convention, paving the way for a national policy on internal displacement.
Humanitarian access in the north was limited during 2012, which hampered comprehensive assessments of the number and needs of IDPs. In the south, basic needs in terms of protection and assistance remained under-addressed. The first CAP humanitarian appeal for Mali, launched in June, was underfunded by around 40 per cent.
In December the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2085, which authorised the deployment of a military force in the north led by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). Operations were expected to start during 2013, prompting serious concerns about IDPs’ protection and access to basic needs, and fears of further mass displacements.
Mali: Fear of mass displacement as result of proposed military intervention (16 November 2012)
Uncertainties remain as to the timing of a forthcoming internationally-backed military intervention, intended to recapture northern Mali from Islamist rebels. Plans to finalise the operational details moved forward during a five-day meeting of Malian and international experts held in Bamako earlier this month.
The plans were submitted to the West African regional bloc ECOWAS for formal endorsement, after which they will be presented to the UN Security Council. Engaged in negotiations, the Islamist group Ansar Dine recently announced that it would allow humanitarian actors to provide assistance in the Timbuktu area. Nevertheless, in the absence of comprehensive plans to protect civilians, a military intervention would likely cause mass displacement and dire humanitarian consequences for a population already drained by months of hardship.
Improved access to northern Mali and profiling exercises conducted in Bamako have led to a significant increase in the estimate of IDPs across Mali, now believed to be around 203,800 people. Further updates are expected within the coming weeks as humanitarian partners and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Solidarity and the Elderly (MAHSPA) conduct assessments. National-level profiling remains hampered in large areas of northern Mali by limited access and lack of human and financial resources.
Mali: With hundreds of thousands displaced since January, is military intervention the next step? (12 October 2012)
During a high-level United Nations conference on the Sahel, Mali and other members called for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to deploy an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) force in Islamist-controlled northern Mali so as to regain territorial integrity. However, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that such action could increase the risk of secondary displacement and further restrict humanitarian access. This takes place against a backdrop of daily, and increasingly atrocious, human rights violations condemned recently by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay.
According to the Commission on Population Movements, which completed an IDP tracking exercise throughout the country, 118,795 people were displaced inside Mali as of 18 September, including 35,300 in the occupied northern regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. Earlier estimates citing 174,000 people as internally displaced were based on vulnerability assessments made in April when restricted humanitarian access in the north did not allow for comprehensive IDP profiling exercises. Most IDPs and host families are facing the effects of a deeply entrenched political crisis which prevents most from meeting their very basic needs, such as food.
For more information on the background of the conflict in Mali and the current situation of IDPs there, see IDMC’s new country overview.
Mali: Starving children of the Sahel are "the face of this funding shortfall", says Amos (5 September 2012)
Valerie Amos, the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, recently traveled to Mopti to witness firsthand the effects of the armed conflict on the lives of IDPs.
IDPs there explained to Amos how "they left their homes due to insecurity, but also because they had no money to buy food since the collapse of the economy". With less than half of the United Nation’s financial appeal for Mali so far funded, she described the 300,000 children across the Sahel who die of malnutrition every year as "the face of this funding shortfall."
Close to 445,000 people have been uprooted since the political crisis which erupted in January, 174,000 of whom are internally displaced. In northern Mali, some 107,000 IDPs and their host families can reportedly no longer meet their most basic needs and require urgent action. Children are particularly vulnerable to hunger, diseases and recruitment by armed groups to serve as soldiers, minesweepers, cooks or sexual slaves. While last month UNICEF reported that at least 175 children had been recruited into armed groups, other sources speak of hundreds more.
Mali: Stability slowly returning but durable solutions a remote possibility for many IDPs
Mali has engaged in a process of slow recovery from the 2012 Tuareg and Islamist takeover of the north and March coup d’état. Dramatic events in 2012 and early 2013 plunged the country into complex security, political and humanitarian crises, causing the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Today, Malians and the international community have guarded confidence regarding the near future...
11 October 2013
A cautious return: Malian IDPs prepare to go home
Mali’s political, security and humanitarian situations have changed significantly during the past month, with French, Malian and West African troops retaking control of much of the north of the country from armed Islamist groups, and driving the rebels out of their strongholds and into the northern mountains. (...)
20 February 2013
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Country Overview (1 October 2012)
Northern takeover internally displaces at least 118,000 people
Few could have predicted that Mali, long considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa, would in less than a year see half its territory overrun by Islamic militants and a tenth of its northern population internally displaced. Instability and insecurity resulting from clashes between government forces and Tuareg separatists and proliferation of armed groups in northern Mali in the wake of a coup d’état have combined with a Sahel-wide food crisis to force some 393,000 Malians from their homes since January 2012, some 118,800 of whom are estimated to be internally displaced.
Some 35,300 people are displaced across Mali’s vast three northern regions, living in town with host families or out in the open in makeshift shelters. Most of the 83,400 IDPs who have taken refuge in the south are staying with host families. Both IDPs and host families face severe shortages of food, access to health care and basic necessities. Many IDPs have lost their sources of livelihoods and children’s education has been severely jeopardised. (...)
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||Mali : Malgré un lent retour à la stabilité, pas de solutions durables en vue pour bon nombre de PDI (11 October 2013) HTML | PDF
- Key Documents
- Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Mali, UN SC, 26 March 2013
- Actions prioritaires et analyse des besoins humanitaires suite à l'escalade du conflit en janvier 2013 au centre et au nord du Mali, UN Country Team in Mali, 11 March 2013
- Statement by the African Commission on the Present Human Rights Situation in Mali, ACHPR, 18 January 2013
- Rapport de la Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’Homme sur la situation des droits de l’Homme au Mali, UN GA, 7 January 2013
- Resolution 2085 (2012), UN SC, 20 December 2012
- Appel Global 2013, UN OCHA, 13 December 2012
- Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Mali, UN SC, 29 November 2012
- Resolution 2071 (2012), UN SC, 12 October 2012
- Document stratégique 2012 - Plan de réponse face à la crise alimentaire et nutritionnelle au Sahel, IASC-WG, 10 February 2012
- Accords d'Alger, Government of Mali, 4 July 2006
- Stabilité du Nord-Mali: des responsabilités partagées, UNHCR, May 1999
- Pacte National Conclu Entre Le Gouvernement De La République Du Mali Et Les Mouvements Et Fronts Unifiés De L’Azawad Consacrant Le Statut Particulier Du Nord Au Mali, Government of Mali, 11 April 1992