The drivers and triggers of displacement in Mali are complex and often intertwined. The Sahelian country is experiencing one of the largest internal displacement crises in Africa, along with neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. This crisis has its roots in long-standing grievances between communities that aggravated between 2012 and 2013, especially in the northern regions. Since 2018, there has been a southward expansion from Tombouctou toward the central regions of Mopti and Gao.
A series of social, economic, and political factors interact and contribute to the growing insecurity, but most violent clashes originate from disputes over access to land and natural resources between farmers and pastoralists. In 2020, violence continued to expand further south, triggering at least 277,000 new displacements, some of the highest figures recorded in the last decade.
In addition to the growing insecurity, the country also faces prolonged periods of drought that have an impact on food security and livelihoods, but data on displacement associated with this and other slow-onset phenomena is currently unavailable. Seasonal rains often cause riverine flooding that trigger displacement. In 2020, floods alone triggered around 7,400 new displacements, a figure that should be considered an underestimate due to lack of systematic monitoring of disaster displacement in the country.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
The total number of internally displaced people in Mali has increased from 208,000 to 326,000 between 2019 and 2020. This is a result of worsening violence in the central and northern regions of Ségou, Mopti, Tombouctou, Gao and Ménaka. Seventy per cent of IDPs have been internally displaced as a result of intercommunal clashes, while the remaining 30 per cent have been displaced by attacks perpetrated by non-state armed groups and operations carried out by the Malian armed forces.
The country’s vulnerability to drought often results in land and water scarcity that drive disputes between farmers and pastoralists. Such disputes have been exploited by non-state armed groups who are seeking a stronger foothold in the country. The attacks that have taken place in the past few years in central Mali have often resulted in the partial or total destruction of entire villages, which prolongs the displacement of those who are forced to flee.
Many IDPs previously displaced by conflict are pushed into repeated displacement by floods, especially during the rainy season that lasts from May to October. They often result in the destruction of homes, forcing entire families to seek shelter elsewhere. In 2020, the floods mostly affected communities in the Gao, Mopti, Ségou and Sikasso regions, which are also home to IDPs fleeing conflict and violence.
As violence has moved south, so have people’s movements. In addition, since late 2018, the tri-border region between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, known as Liptako Gourma, has been experiencing some of the highest levels of internal displacement in Sub-Saharan Africa. The regions hosting most IDPs displaced by conflict and violence are Mopti, Gao, Tombouctou, and Ségou.
More than three quarters of the people internally displaced by conflict and violence have moved more than once. In the Niono cercle of Ségou region and Bourem cercle of Mopti region, IDPs regularly flee three or four times as a result of continued violence. The frequency of displacement in the central and northern regions highlights the heightened vulnerabilities and protection issues faced by IDPs. It happens in a context where armed attacks are a daily occurrence and where IDPs struggle to seek shelter in a safe place. The ongoing violence has triggered internal and cross-border movements of populations, especially to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
In 2020, the situation in affected areas remained unstable and the year was marked by direct and indirect attacks targeting national and international armed forces as well as the civilian population. The attacks against humanitarian organizations has had a severe impact on the provision of services and aid to the displaced communities located in hard-to-reach regions of the country, most notably in Gao. The number of such attacks increased by 10 per cent in from 2019 to 2020.
It is common for IDPs not to receive humanitarian assistance for many weeks or months at a time. This is particularly true in the municipalities of Niono (Ségou region), Douentza (Mopti region) and Koro (Mopti region) where 49 out of 169 sites hosting IDPs did not receive any type of assistance for over 3 months in late 2020. The regions of Mopti, Gao, and Ménaka, some of the ones hosting the largest number of IDPs, continue to report the highest number of incidents against humanitarian organizations.
The security context in Mali has also had significant impacts on the education system. In 2020, over 15 per cent of schools were closed, impacting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren. The education system is also frequently impacted by floods and heavy rains, which damage or destroy education facilities. In October 2020, over 65 per cent of sites hosting IDPs in the country reported that children did not attend school. Financial challenges, the closing of schools for security reasons and the distance to nearest education centre were the main reasons behind the low school attendance in displaced children.
Children under the age of 18 make up about 60 per cent of the total population of IDPs in the country. Boys and men face heightened risks of recruitment by , while women and girls face a series of significant protection risks, such as, but not limited to, forced marriage, abductions and gender based violence. People living with disabilities also face a series of additional challenges when displaced, and a recent study by the UNHCR has found that over 14 per cent of the IDP population in Mali has some disability.
The Government of Mali, through its Ministry of Health and Social Development, has created a specific department within its Ministry that is dedicated to the monitoring and reporting of internal displacement trends and patterns in the country. The monitoring of internal displacement associated with conflict and violence in Mali is an example of systematic data collection, verification and sharing. This is done in close collaboration with local and regional authorities, as well as international organizations such as, but not limited to, IOM, UNHCR, and NRC.
Mali approved a national strategy for the management of IDPs and returnees in 2015. The framework addresses internal displacement associated with conflict and paves the way for durable solutions.
The 2010 national multi-risk contingency plan for disaster preparedness and response addresses displacement as a result of disasters and includes response plans for various emergency scenarios. It includes measures to prevent new displacements and to mitigate the consequences on other affected groups, such as host communities. This plan requires the establishment of an “Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Fund” for disaster preparedness, management, and rehabilitation actions. Through the supervision of the General Direction of the Civil Protection (DGPC) of Mali, the project known as PRECARICA was one of the first examples of the implementation of this relief fund, which aims to reinforce national capacities for disaster risk reduction.
Mali has ratified the Kampala convention and there have been some efforts aimed at the domestication of the convention through the drafting of a law that protects and prevents internal displacement. This draft law has been under consideration since 2019.