Mali: thousands affected by fighting in the north

08-02-2012 Operational Update

At least 30,000 people displaced within Mali by fighting in the north since mid-January are living in dire conditions. The ICRC is assisting thousands of these people and 15,000 others displaced in neighbouring Niger. It is also visiting detainees and attending to the wounded in Mali.

"People are fleeing the violence in large numbers, in great haste, and in utter destitution," said Jürg Eglin, the head of the ICRC's regional delegation for Niger and Mali. "We are joining forces with the Mali Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of Niger to provide them with food and shelter, and to improve their access to water. The latest assessments made by our staff in northern Mali are particularly alarming."

26,000 displaced people in and around Ménaka, 4,000 around Aguelhoc

In Aguelhoc, 150 kilometres north-east of Kidal in the north of Mali, fierce fighting forced some 4,000 people to flee their homes for nearby villages, where most are living in very difficult conditions. "Some of them were taken in by host families, but most have had to build some kind of improvised shelter under the scorching sun of this semi-desert region," explained Mr Eglin. "They are desperately short of food, and they lost some of their animals as they fled."

Together with the Mali Red Cross, the ICRC is preparing to distribute millet, rice, oil and salt, and tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, buckets, kitchen utensils and hygiene items to the displaced in Aguelhoc. The Mali Red Cross already made an emergency delivery of food for 600 displaced people whose situation was particularly worrying.

In Ménaka, Gao region, clashes prompted almost 26,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety, both within and outside the town, according to ICRC and Mali Red Cross estimates.

The ICRC is also assessing the situation in Tessalit, Kidal region, and in Léré and Niafunké, in Tombouctou region, which have also been affected by the fighting in the north of Mali. According to local sources, there could still be as many as 20,000 displaced people in these areas.

"The aim now is to bring aid to the displaced people in an appropriate manner and as soon as possible," said Mr Eglin. "We have to cope with the vast distances and arid climate, and also respect security constraints."

Visiting detainees and attending to the wounded

On 5 February the ICRC visited 13 Malian army personnel held by an armed group in northern Mali to check on the treatment they were receiving and the conditions in which they were being held. The detainees were given the opportunity to write messages to their families.

"We are going to continue our dialogue with all those involved with a view to obtaining access to all persons they are detaining," said Mr Eglin. "This ongoing dialogue is also essential for the security of our personnel."

An ICRC medical team provided care for wounded people near the town of Ménaka.

Water, food and shelter for people who fled to Niger

The fighting that took place in Ménaka and Andéramboukane also prompted over 15,000 people from Mali and Niger to seek refuge in Niger, in the northern Tillabéry region just across the border from Mali. In cooperation with the Red Cross Society of Niger, the ICRC is distributing food and other essential items in the area and is working to improve access to water.

The humanitarian consequences of the violence in the north of Mali are further straining a part of the Sahel that was already hard hit by recurrent droughts and food crises. Several governments and certain humanitarian organizations in the area have already warned about the danger in 2012 of a major crisis of food, and of fodder for livestock, resulting from crop and pasture losses after a poor rainy season.

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


Heldokhnan, Tombouctou region, Mali. ICRC personnel prepare to distribute food to displaced civilians. 

Heldokhnan, Tombouctou region, Mali. ICRC personnel prepare to distribute food to displaced civilians.
© ICRC / A. Ag Sicaye