31 December 2013 |

Mali: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2013


Mali began a slow recovery from crisis during 2013, after France led a military offensive in January to counter Islamist armed groups that made an unexpected push south from their stronghold in the north of the country. The offensive largely ended the groups’ occupation of the north and brought hope to hundreds of thousands of people displaced during the crisis. A UN stabilisation mission (MINUSMA) was established and presidential and legislative elections held later in the year, but threats to peace and stability remain. Guerrilla-style attacks have complicated return movements and the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly in the north.

According to the Commission on Population Movements, there were around 218,000 IDPs in Mali as of the end of the year, down from a peak of 350,000. The figures appear to confirm reports of IDPs moving back to the north. Some, however, have failed to achieve a durable solution and were forced into secondary displacement. UNHCR said the time had not yet come for the majority of IDPs and refugees to return to their homes in a safe and sustainable way.

Those who risked the journey north faced significant challenges on their arrival. Some found their homes destroyed or occupied, sporadic attacks continued, particularly in Kidal, and unexploded ordnance was widespread. Ethnic tensions were heightened and in some cases caused the further displacement of communities accused of association with one armed group or another. Chronic food insecurity worsened in some regions, particularly Gao, and rising prices and shortages led people to reduce their daily food intakes.

Schools in many areas reopened, enabling the majority of the 300,000 children whose education had been disrupted to attend classes, but ongoing insecurity meant those in Kidal remain closed. The reintegration of demobilised child soldiers, particularly the orphans among them, remained a concern.

Roughly half of those still displaced live in Mali’s southern cities, where the ability of both IDPs and host communities to make ends meet had decreased significantly by the end of 2013. Length of displacement was a key factor, with some people having fled their homes up to 18 months ago. IDPs living in cities have also found it difficult to adapt their often agriculture-based livelihoods to their new urban environment, and some families have split up as a means of trying to get by. Many urban IDPs face the risk of eviction from their rented accommodation, and only half have identity documents, making access to basic services more difficult and holding back their socio-economic recovery.

More than 50 per cent of displaced families are headed by women, some of whom have resorted to harmful coping mechanisms including forced marriage and survival sex. Overcrowded accommodation and lack of privacy puts girls at heightened risk of gender-based violence. Some victims of gross human rights violations committed during the conflict, including rape and child recruitment, have been stigmatised by their communities. They have received very limited psychosocial support and are unlikely to achieve legal redress. Access to health care more generally is slowly being restored to areas of the north affected by the crisis.

Mali signed the Kampala Convention in 2009 and ratified it in December 2012. A year later, however, no steps had been taken towards implementation. The new government established a number of new ministries in September 2013, but despite the scale and duration of internal displacement in the country, no authority was specifically designated to coordinate IDPs’ protection and assistance. The government’s continued promotion of return to northern regions through cash incentives and return packages – when combined with a marked lack of assistance and support in the south – was seen by many international organizations as premature, and a position which undermined the free and informed nature of IDPs’ choice of a settlement option.

The relatively slow process of transition to an emergency response in 2012 and 2013 meant that IDPs and host communities did not receive enough assistance during the early phase of the crisis. No comprehensive approach to facilitating durable solutions had been established by year-end, either for people returning to the north or those left behind in the south. The UN’s consolidated appeal for 2013 was only funded at 55.7%, jeopardising recovery efforts further and putting IDPs at risk of long-term vulnerability. The focus of donor investment in the north on infrastructure risks is distracting attention from ongoing humanitarian and early recovery needs.