Mali: Challenges ahead for displaced people hoping to return home

Published: 3 April 2013 15:07 CET

By Moustapha Diallo, IFRC

In a camp for people forced from their homes by conflict in northern Mali, 600 people – mostly women and children – live in misery. 30 tents, some kiosks and a makeshift dwelling here and there form a labyrinth within the camp in Sévaré, a town in the region of Mopti. It is now home to 70 families.

Standing in front of a tent provided by the Mali Red Cross, Nana Traoré, a 52-year-old widow, is preparing breakfast for her eight children. On the menu is half a glass of boiled millet without milk or sugar for each child. “It is not enough but it's better than nothing,” says Nana, who, a few months before her arrival in the camp, wandered the streets of Sévaré, begging for food to feed her family. “I lost my husband who was my sole support during an attack in Kidal," she says. “After his death, I fled with my children. Imagine this long march on foot and in trucks, with eight children.”

A few feet away, her neighbour, Jaffar Maiga, 56, sings to comfort his two children who have not yet taken breakfast. His smile cannot hide his anxiety. A little more than a year ago, before the outbreak of the crisis, he was a prosperous farmer who lived in the circle of Bourem in the region of Gao. “I was the chief of the village of Derrienne and I had hectares of rice and millet fields which allowed me to feed my family properly," said Jaffar. "Today, with no work and no activity, I am forced to beg to survive.”

The crisis in northern Mali has displaced thousands of people, including more than 260,000 who have fled to safety in other parts of the country. Many have arrived in their new home on foot, donkey, or by truck. Most arrive with nothing.

An estimated 40,000 people have sought refuge in the Mopti region, accepting assistance offered by host families or in camps. But the assistance, although well-intentioned, is not enough. They live in very poor conditions. And despite northern cities having been cleared of insurgents by Malian and French troops, people are reluctant to return home.

“We lost everything during the crisis. I do not even know what happened to my fields and my livestock," said Jaffar. "Returning home means restarting my life from zero. Without money to buy seeds and tools, it is impossible to cultivate my fields. So it is better to stay here."

Jaffar and his neighbours from the north now survive thanks to aid provided by humanitarian agencies, including the Mali Red Cross. They have received food and essential items including tents, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, soap, and kitchen utensils, as well as medical care. “Security is not guaranteed if we go home,” said Nana Traoré. “At least here we are assisted.”