With the recent escalation of the conflict in Mali, including the intervention of French and Malian armed forces, the dire situation for tens of thousands of Malian refugees is set to worsen, according to a new report published today by international aid agency Oxfam.
In the new report, Mali’s Conflict Refugees: Responding to a Growing Crisis, Oxfam says the refugees face a number of threats including forced recruitment by armed groups crossing from northern Mali.
Oxfam is extremely concerned about the conditions facing more than 147,000 Malian refugees who have fled into neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger over the past year.
The aid agency also highlights child malnutrition rates in some refugee camps that are already well above the 15 per cent emergency threshold set by the World Health Organisation. For example in Niger, malnutrition rates among children under five years stand at 21 per cent.
Oxfam West Africa Regional Director Mamadou Biteye said after nearly a year of assisting tens of thousands of people in extremely tough conditions, the aid community was struggling to meet their needs.
“It is paramount now that we ensure aid will continue to be provided to people who are leaving everything behind.
“We call on countries neighbouring Mali to continue to keep their borders open to allow refugees a safe haven, and for the UN to show the leadership that is needed to deal with the impact of this conflict on Malian refugees and their hosts,” he said.
Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Richard Marles, is attending the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa this week, where the Malian crisis is high on the agenda.
The aid agency said it was critical that Australia actively supports the African Union and countries bordering Mali to address the appalling conditions facing refugees from this crisis, as well as support work to help those people internally displaced in Mali.
While host governments, local communities and humanitarian organisations have provided vital assistance to refugees, Oxfam said the scale-up has been slow because of logistical challenges, limited experience of in-country humanitarian organisations in dealing with refugee emergencies and a small UNHCR presence in the region in the early stages of the response.
Oxfam’s report says almost a year since the start of the conflict in the north of Mali, refugees are still not able to reliably access basic assistance such as nutrition and education, and are not being adequately protected from abuses such as violence and forced recruitment.
The aid agency said the most recent fighting has forced thousands of people to flee from the north into southern Mali, in addition to the nearly 220,000 people who have become internally displaced over the past year. Limited information from the north means there could be many more displaced people who remain in territory held by armed groups.
For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on 0412 560 584 or firstname.lastname@example.org