Host families feel the pressure of coping with mass migration

Published: 9 April 2013 9:24 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

Since conflict erupted in northern Mali a year ago, the Mopti region has hosted more than 40,000 people who have fled their homes in search of safety. A camp was established in Sévaré, however, only 600 people have chosen to settle there. According to UNHCR, 90 per cent of people fleeing the violence, more than 270,000, prefer to live with host families scattered across many regions and districts.

As a result, the pressure on host families is enormous, both financially and physically. Many families use their own dwindling funds to grants from aid agencies to support those who have landed on their doorsteps. And they are exhausted looking after not only their own families, but now, dozens of others, many of whom are sick.

In his house in Medina Coura, in the region of Mopti, Malick Maiga has taken in more than 70 people. For this simple truck driver, who is already struggling to provide for his wife and 13 children, feeding so many unexpected guests is a challenge. But he can’t turn his back on them. “These are parents who came here without a penny. I can’t throw them out onto the street,” he says. “Today our main problem is food. There just isn’t enough of it.”

In Mopti and in many other parts of Mali, people continue to suffer from hunger due to poor harvests and high food prices experienced across the country last year.

“The influx of displaced persons in some parts of the country has greatly aggravated the situation,” explains Mamadou Traore, Secretary General of the Mali Red Cross Society. “Poor families are especially affected as they have not yet recovered from the food crisis last year, and have already exhausted their coping mechanisms.”

Dr Aminata Coulibaly, head of the nutrition department at the medical region of Mopti, says there has been an increase in the number of children under five suffering from severe malnutrition in the region. “However, with the support and interventions of partners, including the Mali Red Cross Society, those numbers – when combined with the number of children suffering from moderate malnutrition – are starting to level off.”

Access to basic services such as safe water, shelter, health care and education also remains a major concern. In the courtyard of Malick Maiga’s home stand two tents provided by the Red Cross. It was a gift that was well received even though there is not enough room for all.  Women and children usually sleep inside while the men sleep outside or in turns. “The society wanted to give me three tents but there was no more space in the house,” says Malick.

Sidiké Samaké took in 40 people from Timbuktu in a house he has rented. “Every day I have to manage to find food for these people. If they get sick, I pay the consultation fees and buy medicine," he says. Samaké was a merchant who also fled the violence and instability in Timbuktu last May, settling in Mopti with his wife and six children. “It's very difficult. I buy animals that I sold on the market to feed my family which is a lot larger now,” he says. “You can imagine, I myself am a displaced person obliged to take care of other displaced people."

Samaké’s enlarged family has also benefited from the many distributions of food and essential items from the Mali Red Cross Society; activities that will need to continue in the weeks and months ahead, as the enormous needs remain.