Crisis in Mali: Providing Protection and Assistance to more than 405,000 Uprooted Malians

Project location: Mali
Project start date: June 2013 - Project end date: June 2014
Project number: 2013-015
Beneficiary: UNHCR


Fierce hostilities between Malian forces and Islamist groups in Northern Mali, coupled with French military intervention, are causing more people to flee their homes. In the last 2-3 weeks of January, Mali's neighboring countries saw 41,547 new refugee arrivals. After escaping violence and brutality, refugees are met with another hardship: cruel conditions of the desert. The entire Sahel region is suffering from crippling drought and acute food and water shortages. Between November 2012 and January 2013, the number of internally displaced people in Mali itself is estimated to have increased by 15% - from 198,558 to 241,448. New arrivals tell UNHCR they have left their homes because of French air strikes and fighting, as well as fears over the imposition of Sharia Law. They also speak of increasing food and fuel shortages. A lack of cereal is pushing pastoralists to kill their animals as they have nothing else to eat. Fears are that fighting could stop the delivery of aid to refugees in the most dangerous locations.
In total, more than 405,200 people have fled their homes since fighting erupted a year ago between the Tuareg rebel movement and Malian government forces in the north. Tens of thousands have found refuge in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, some also in Algeria, Guinea and Togo. Many of the new Malian refugees are women and children. A large number are malnourished children. Malnutrition rates in Northern Mali are very high and the situation is reported worsening reaching 21% in refugee camps in Niger and 17% in Mauritania. In Mauritania as well women and children represent 90% of all new arrivals. Those fleeing are predominantly ethnic Tuareg, but other affected groups include the Peul, Bambara, Djerma, Haussa and Songhai people.
The crisis deepened in March 2012 when military officers staged a coup d'état, followed by the capture of the north by the Tuareg's National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Ansar Dine group.
The two declared an Islamic state in the north before falling out in June, when Ansar Dine and other Islamic militant groups took control of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. For the past year, people have been fleeing political instability, widespread human rights abuses, strict application of Sharia law and the threat of increased fighting. Lack of basic services and unemployment is compounding the situation.
Many of the refugees are pastoralists who have taken their cattle with them. They are living in harsh conditions in host countries, which themselves have limited resources.

The most urgent needs for displaced Malians within and outside Mali are water, sanitation, food, shelter and medical care. In Bamako, which currently hosts over 51,000 internally displaced people, many are struggling to pay rent, while others live in very poor conditions with deplorable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Countries in the Sahel region have been facing a severe drought and food crisis for several months. Some parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger were also hit by devastating floods in 2012. This puts further pressure on host communities and UNHCR's emergency programmes need to include provision for local populations so that resentment does not build up.
The table below shows the current numbers of refugees and displaced as at 6 February 2013.

Country      No. of refugees/displaced
Mali             241,448
Mauritania   68,673*
Niger           50,000
Burkina Faso 43,629*
Guinea        26
Togo           20
Algeria        1,500
TOTAL        405,296

*The figures include new arrivals who have been individually registered.
** This population planning figure is a national estimate pending the completion of the countrywide individual registration.

Sadly, ongoing hostilities in Mali are severely restricting humanitarian access. It is hard to assess fully the impact in the conflict zones and to verify information on the people who have been displaced. Furthermore, the UN and other humanitarian staff have been forced to withdraw from Mopti, Sevare and Segou, making it all the more challenging to provide protection and assistance to people in these areas.

As military operations continue, UNHCR is urgently reinforcing teams across the region to assist all those who are being forced from their homes. We are planning for additional displacement of up to 300,000 people inside Mali and 407,000 into
neighboring countries. The role of UNHCR and other agencies is crucial in alleviating the burden on the already under-resourced host communities. Our operations continue wherever we can get access and we are ready to provide further life-saving support to the harder-to-reach areas as soon as it becomes possible.

1.    UNHCR is transporting people to safety
In Mauritania, UNHCR is transporting the 13,825 Malians who arrived since 11 January from the transit centre in Fassala to the Mbera refugee camp, which has capacity for 100,000 refugees.
In Burkina Faso, vehicles are collecting those who are unable to walk. On 19 January, a convoy with 568 refugees left the Ferrerio and Gandafabou refugee sites in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahal region to be relocated to Goudebou camp near Dori. From now on, Ferrerio will be used as a transit centre for new arrivals. We will continue to transport people from here to Goudebou.

2.    UNHCR is caring for new arrivals – Some refugees are arriving by car or truck, while others have made the arduous journey by donkey or on foot. Many of the new arrivals are expecting additional family members to join them in the next few days. To help receive the massive influx, we have a reception centre at Fassala in Mauritania, and two hangars in Inabao, Burkina Faso – currently the main entry point for new refugees. Here, refugees can be registered and directed to safety. One of our partners on the ground at Inabao has rehabilitated a water pump and constructed emergency latrines. As well as helping keep refugees healthy, this helps ease tensions with the local population who already suffering water shortages.

3.    UNHCR is providing life-saving assistance.
In Mali’s capital, Bamako (host to some 50,000 IDPs), UNHCR is supporting families who are living in bad conditions with no water or electricity, or enough
space to accommodate family members. UNHCR is working with partners to provide income-generating activities to help their situation. For the refugees in in Niger and Burkina Faso, we are working to relocate some of the camps so that we can meet the needs of the increasing numbers of people, and to provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene structures as well as shelter and domestic items like buckets and cooking sets.

4.    UNHCR is providing education.
Although we have to concentrate efforts on protection and life-saving activities, UNHCR also prioritizes education, which helps to give children stability and support during this traumatic time. We are working in partnership with Niger’s Ministry of Education, UNICEF and Oxfam to support a project in Tabareybarey refugee camp, some 40km from the Niger-Mali border. Here, we have constructed nine classrooms for over 750 children and 12 teachers who attend classes run by our local partner. The children get to have their say in the running of their new school, forming a ‘school government’ with a ministerial cabinet and a school council, composed of the school director and community leaders in the camp. In this way, young people can feel they can make a difference to their current situation and their futures.

UNHCR is staying until we can help Malians to go home. UNHCR remains on the ground throughout any crisis where people are fleeing, and works to resettle families back home or somewhere safe. However long the journey ahead is for the hundreds of thousands fleeing violence in Mali, UNHCR will provide ongoing support until they are safely home again.

The following table shows activities planned. We expect a revised appeal to be launched as the numbers and needs of new refugees and displaced people become clearer.







Border monitoring and improving condition of reception centres

Registration and profiling of refugees, issuing ID cards and travel documents, and carrying out birth registration


Refugee camp sites operation and maintenance, providing tents and other shelter materials and tools for their maintenance

Camp management and coordination

Operations management – staff housing, security & ICT

Providing fuel, electricity and lighting for refugee families

Providing domestic items such as buckets and cooking sets


Nutrition surveillance – providing food supplements, promoting good infant and young child feeding practices, protecting against anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies

Food distribution

Health care

Health care – providing essential drugs, preventing disease outbreaks, distributing mosquito nets and relevant medical care

Reducing sexual and gender-based violence - supporting community protection, providing legal assistance, counselling and medical care

Providing reproductive health and HIV services, including preventative care, voluntary counselling and testing services

Establish special needs services – eg. equipment for disability

Water, Sanitation

& Hygiene

Increasing water supply, upgrading water systems and ensuring they are safely accessible, especially to women and children

Constructing latrines, providing soap and sanitary materials

Supply Logistics & Warehousing

Local and international procurement of supplies, transport, vehicle maintenance and warehousing


Providing primary and secondary education, including measures to increase enrolment and retention, especially among girls


Self-reliance & livelihood support, vocational & technical training

Protection & Family Reunification

Child protection – providing safe spaces for children, coordinating special arrangements for unaccompanied children

Providing family reunification services

Protecting against recruitment in armed forces

Protecting against crime and promoting community conflict-resolution

Providing legal assistance

Peaceful Coexistence

Promoting peaceful coexistence through community campaigns and projects that benefit both refugee and host populations

Coordination of Partnerships

Coordination and management of local partners – assessment, planning and evaluation of projects


UNHCR and humanitarian aid partners are working around the clock to provide protection and assistance for all uprooted Malians. These are the main expected outcomes of the intervention, which received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation:


  • Refugees are registered, profiled, given ID cards, travel documents and birth registration for the new born;
  • Refugee camp sites are operative, managed and coordinated;
  • Refugees are provided with fuel, electricity and lighting, tents, other shelter materials (as buckets and cooking sets) and tools for their maintenance;
  • Food and food supplements are distributed;
  • Good infant and young child feeding practices are promoted;
  • Essential drugs, mosquito nets and relevant medical care are provided;
  • Legal assistance, counselling and medical care are provided in order to reduce sexual and gender-based violence;
  • Reproductive health and HIV services are provided, including preventative care, voluntary counselling and testing services;
  • Special needs services are established – eg. equipment for disability;
  • Water supply are increased and made accessible, especially to women and children;
  • Latrines are constructed, soap and sanitary materials are provided;
  • Primary and secondary education is provided and measures to increase enrolment and retention are taken;
  • Vocational & technical training is provided;
  • Child protection is provided;
  • Reunification services and legal assistance are provided;
  • Peaceful coexistence is promoted through community campaigns and projects;
  • Local partners are coordinated and managed.


Considering the seriousness of the situation in Mali and neighboring countries and the scarcity of funds available,  UNHCR will devolve any single contribution received to the most urgent activity required among the ones described above (activities, operational procedures and methodology), either in Mali or neighboring countries affected by the crisis.

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