A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
With conflict escalating in Mali, the aid effort to help some 145,000 refugees living in camps across remote, poor areas of the Sahel could become overwhelmed unless there is a step-change in the way aid operations are carried out.
Since January 2012, nearly 375,000 Malians have fled the conflict in the north of their country. Some 145,000, the majority of them women and children, have crossed into Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. More refugees are set to follow as fighting intensifies in Mali.
Host governments and humanitarian agencies have provided life-saving aid to refugees in difficult circumstances, but they are struggling to meet all the refugees’ basic needs, in particular in education, nutrition and protection. In Niger’s camps, up to 21 per cent of children are malnourished, well above the 15 per cent ‘emergency threshold’ set by the UN. For many refugees – including those interviewed by Oxfam – this was the latest of several flights from crisis over two decades and they say they will not return until a lasting peace in Mali is secured.
This briefing paper analyzes the shortfalls in the humanitarian response to refugees, and outlines what is needed to better meet the needs of refugees and the communities among which they are living. It also calls on all military forces and armed groups in Mali to take all possible steps to prevent harm to an already distressed civilian population. Finally, the report emphasises that Mali’s crisis can only be addressed through a comprehensive approach that moves beyond a focus on counter-terrorism and seeks to address the deep-seated drivers of the conflict.
Key recommendations from the report:
- Host governments, with support from relevant UN agencies and donors, must provide safe passage to refugees and respect their rights, even in the event of a further major influx of refugees.
- All military forces active in Mali now or in the future must take all possible steps to minimize harm to civilians in line with UN Security Resolution 2085; and armed groups must refrain from committing human rights violations.
- Host governments, UN agencies, NGOs and donors must strengthen the current humanitarian response and prepare for a possible further influx of refugees, with a focus on nutrition, education and protection.
- The Malian government, African and Western governments and multilateral institutions working with civil society must tackle the underlying political, economic and social causes of Mali’s crisis.
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