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Mali: situation critical for victims of fighting

16-03-2012 Operational Update

Some 72,000 displaced people have fled their homes in northern Mali according to ICRC and Mali Red Cross estimates. Many are living in extremely precarious conditions. Against a backdrop of ongoing armed clashes, the ICRC's priority is to gain access to people who have been displaced, injured and/or detained.

"Wounded people need urgent medical attention," explained Juerg Eglin, head of the ICRC's regional delegation in Niamey, which covers Mali and Niger. "The ICRC should also be able to visit all detainees." Displaced people and their host communities sometimes face great hardship, he said. People have fled fighting and sought refuge in areas that they feel are safer. But those areas are ill-suited to a major influx. Simple survival is a challenge, and safety, hygiene and access to food and drinking water are daily struggles.

The ICRC is pursuing dialogue with the authorities and all the armed groups in order to gain safe access to the victims.

72,000 people displaced within Mali

On 16 March, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross start distributing food and essential household items to more than 28,000 displaced people in the vicinity of Ménaka (in Gao region). "These people are living in makeshift shelters on the outskirts of Ménaka and in surrounding villages," said Eglin. "It's essential that our teams have unhindered access to them."

On 11 and 12 March, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross distributed emergency food to more than 6,500 displaced people in the towns of Gao, Ansongo and Bourem.

In addition to the 34,500 displaced people in Gao region, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross have so far registered a further 25,500 displaced people in Kidal region (almost 19,000 in the area of Tessalit and another 5,000 in Abeibara) as well as 12,000 in Tombouctou region (concentrated in the area of Niamfunké).

Gaining access to the victims of the fighting in Tessalit

Last week, the Malian authorities and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad asked the ICRC to facilitate the evacuation of civilians from a combat zone on the outskirts of Tessalit. However, the operation was unable to go ahead, initially because of the fighting and later because ICRC staff were prevented by armed men from going any further.

For the ICRC, the priority in the area is to be able to help the civilians, the wounded and the detainees. Once vital security guarantees are received, delegates will resume their efforts to reach these goals.

Specific needs of injured people and detainees

To ensure that wounded people can be treated swiftly and effectively, the ICRC delivered medical supplies to various branches of the Mali Red Cross and to health-care centres in Kidal and Tombouctou. ICRC delegates have also just given first-aid training to 20 volunteers from the Mali Red Cross who will in turn train other volunteers in the country's three northern regions.

Since 8 February, the ICRC has been visiting people detained in connection with the violence in northern Mali. The purpose of these visits is to check the detainees' treatment and conditions and to enable them to send messages to their families. To date, the ICRC has visited around 20 detainees.

"We remind all parties to the fighting of their duty to comply with international humanitarian law," said Eglin. "In particular, they must protect civilians from the dangers arising from military operations and guarantee the ICRC access to the wounded and to detainees, regardless of who they are or where they are."

Population already suffering food crisis

For a population already severely hit by the food insecurity affecting the entire Sahel region, the fighting in northern Mali is making it even harder for them to cope.

From 17 March, as well as providing assistance to those displaced by the violence, the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross will start distributing food to some 50,000 victims of the food crisis in the vicinity of Ménaka.

Assistance in neighbouring countries

In Burkina Faso there are some 20,000 Malian refugees living in temporary camps, mainly in Soum and Oudalan provinces. They are having great difficulty putting a roof over their head, finding water and food, and obtaining health care. In Oudalan, the Burkinabé Red Cross, supported by the ICRC, is preparing to distribute essential items (including blankets, tarpaulins, cooking kits, soap and buckets) to more than 12,000 refugees in six camps.

In Mauritania, the authorities estimate that some 37,000 Malians have found refuge in the south-east of the country since late January. The refugees have been temporarily settled in Fassala camp or transferred to M'berré camp 40 km away. A firsthand assessment by the ICRC has revealed the inadequacy of the water supplies in these camps. The organization will therefore provide a safe water supply by improving storage, distribution and pumping systems. The refugees also need access to decent health-care facilities, particularly for surgical cases, and are living in poor sanitary conditions. Action is needed as well to solve these problems.

In the northern Tillabéry department of Niger, where local communities themselves affected by the food crisis are hosting thousands of Malian refugees, more than 60,000 people have been receiving food aid from the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of Niger since 5 March.

For further information, please contact:
Germain Mwehu, ICRC Niamey, tel. +227 97 45 43 82
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 20 11  or  +41 79 536 92 50


Photos

Gao, northern Mali. Mali Red Cross volunteers supervise the unloading of sacks of food that will be distributed to displaced persons. 

Gao, northern Mali. Mali Red Cross volunteers supervise the unloading of sacks of food that will be distributed to displaced persons.
© ICRC / D. Mahamadou

Gao, northern Mali. Mali Red Cross and ICRC personnel prepare to distribute food to displaced persons. 

Gao, northern Mali. Mali Red Cross and ICRC personnel prepare to distribute food to displaced persons.
© ICRC / D. Mahamadou

Gao, northern Mali. The Mali Red Cross distributes food. 

Gao, northern Mali. The Mali Red Cross distributes food.
© ICRC / D. Mahamadou

Gao, northern Mali. A displaced person receives a sack of millet. 

Gao, northern Mali. A displaced person receives a sack of millet.
© ICRC / D. Mahamadou

Gao, northern Mali. A displaced family receives food from the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross. 

Gao, northern Mali. A displaced family receives food from the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross.
© ICRC / D. Mahamadou