In the Refugee camps near the Malian border in Niger, people who used to live in tents have stated replacing them with homes made from mud, indicating that they no longer imagine a quick return, said Leo Dobbs of UNHCR in Geneva on the 10th of November.
The same day, UNHCR announced that the number of Malians seeking refuge in Niger has reached a new high, at over 54,000 people. This number exceeds the amount of refugees in Niger at the height of the Malian civil war in 2012-2013, which ended when French and Malian troops overpowered rebel forces. The increase of Malian refugees setting up home in Niger is considerable, given UNHCR has facilitated the return of many families (7,000 individuals in 2013, and another 953 in 2015 alone): meaning that the inflow of refugees is not only meeting, but exceeding the outflow of those returning to Mali.
Why the increased arrival from Mali? What has changed?
Whilst the Government and the loyalist Militia signed a peace accord last June, it is evident that the daily security situation faced by many Malians has not improved. UNHCR reports that for those coming from the rural regions of Menaka and Anderaboukane, tireless fighting between the Idourfane and Daoussak tribes has so negatively impacted the food security of the population that for many the choice to flee is a survival strategy. Restricted access to grazing lands has threatened the means of subsistence for those families dependent on livestock, a situation worsened by the routine stealing of animals. Female refugees reported the latter to UNHCR, also stressing that their children had not being able to attend school and that the national authorities were not present to offer protection.
“Lawlessness, extortion, food-shortages, inter-tribal rivalry, fighting between herders and farmers, and a power vacuum in the absence of a strong government and military presence in the east” were reported by Leo Dobbs of UNHCR as the overall impetuous cited by Malians to continue to flee to Niger despite the war’s end.
The latest influx comes at a time when UNHCR was preparing to scale down assistance and reduce initial 2013 allocated funding by 50% in 2016. The achievements made in the camps, such as reducing poverty, improving nutrition, and ensuring high school enrolment, are now under strain, said Dobbs, alongside Niger’s capacity to host these unexpected, numerous additions to the refugee population.