Afraid to return home, displaced people from northern Mali are finding support in communities in the south. But their hosts are stretched thin, often not much better off than the refugees they take in.
The people who have settled in the Moptiregion, in central Mali, after fleeing violence in the north of the country all have their own story to tell. But they share one common thread. They fled homes and lands to which they were deeply attached, leaving with almost nothing. While some are in camps, most have chosen to live with host families scattered across many districts and villages.
Everywhere, the sadness is palpable. People are traumatized by what they’ve been through and what they’ve seen. Completely uprooted, they do not know when or if they will ever be able to return home.
Boubacar Traoré, a qualified technician, was one of the first to settle in Mopti. At 57, he was forced to leave Hombori, his home town, to avoid being forcibly recruited by armed groups. He now lives in a camp for displaced people in Sévaré, in the neighbourhood of Wailirde, which, when translated, means ‘dump ground’.
Having fled with his wife and ten children, Traoré arrived in Mopti penniless and exhausted. After a few days of wandering, he and his family settled in the camp almost a year ago. Today, he sits, unproductive, unable to put his skills as a mechanic to work. “I do nothing here. Even if I want to restart mechanics, it would be complicated because nobody knows me here,” he insists. “We depend only on help. It is not enough but it’s better than nothing.”
‘There isn’t enough’
As difficult as Traoré’s situation is, he is much better off than those who are living with host families, many of whom are still struggling to recover from the effects of the food crisis that hit the country in
2012. The host families are overwhelmed and unable
to cope with the needs of their unexpected guests.
In his house in Medina Coura, Malick Maiga has taken in more than 70 people. For this truck driver, who is already struggling to provide for his wife and 13 children, feeding so many is a challenge. But he can’t turn his back on them. “These are relatives who came here without a penny. I can’t throw them out onto the street,” says Maiga. “Today our main problem is food. There just isn’t enough of it.”
According to the government, hunger has reached crisis levels in the northern Kidal region and is critical in the regions of Timbuktu and Gao.
The Mali Red Cross is supporting host families through the provision of items such as food and tents. However, despite the efforts of the Mali Red Cross and other humanitarian actors, the needs of populations affected by the crisis are enormous. Thousands of people remain displaced and live in precarious conditions lacking water, food and latrines.
Security is still volatile due to military operations and mine incidents. Operating in such a context is difficult and challenging. As a result, many humanitarian organizations have limited their interventions. The Mali Red Cross, through its network of volunteers across the country, is one of the few organizations to continue providing vital assistance to people in need.
At the end of April 2013, the number of displaced people was estimated at more than 300,000, with more than 50 per cent seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Access to basic services such as food, drinking water, shelter, health care and education remains a priority.
“Every day I have to try to find food for my unexpected guests. If they get sick I pay the consultation fees and medical drugs,” says Sidiki Samaké, who accommodates more than 40 displaced people in a house he rented in Mopti, even though he himself is displaced.
“We want to go back and live in peace. Look what conditions we have here,” he says. Like Samaké, thousands of people from the north want to return. But as it is difficult to see the future with certainty, it is premature to say when that will happen.
“We have mud houses, and during the last rainy season, everything collapsed. When you’re not there, even your neighbour can take your door and wood to build or repair his house. When I got back to my house today, I could not sleep at all because everything was gone,” adds Samaké.
Plans are under way to ensure help is there when people do return to the north. The Mali Red Cross recently conducted an assessment to identify what people will need. Indications are they will need everything: shelter, water, food, health care and support in restarting their livelihoods.
“One of the new areas of focus for our work will be putting in place a programme of assistance and support to returnees in the north,” says Mamadou Traoré, secretary general of the Mali Red Cross. “To achieve this, however, we will need the support of all. The needs are too great for us to do it alone.”
By Moustapha Diallo
Moustapha Diallo is a reporting and information officer for the IFRC.
Mopti, Mali, who
has taken in more than 70 people
while struggling to provide for
his wife and 13 children.
Photo: ©Moustapha Diallo/Macina Film/IFRC
“These are people
who came here
without a penny.
I can’t throw them
out onto the street.”
Refugees from the Malian town of Hombori pose for a picture at their private accommodation in the capital Bamako in September 2012. According to the United Nations, more than 450,000 people have fled their homes, many of them taking up temporary residence in private homes in southern Mali.
Photo: ©REUTERS/Simon Akam
In March 2013, an IFRC representative speaks with displaced women living with host families in Mopti.
Photo: ©Moustapha Diallo/Macina Film/IFRC