The armed conflict in Northern Mali, which broke out in 2012 following an insurrection by groups of Salafi jihadists and pro-Azawad independence proponents, continues to lead to the loss of lives and displacement of people in the country.
Thousands of town dwellers in the country’s northern and central regions have fled their respective localities to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger as well as the Malian capital, Bamako. Most of these people live in rather inhuman conditions.
Estimates from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) indicate that there are more than 160,000 persons who have abandoned their localities because of fighting between the Malian army and Tuareg rebels.
In Bamako, these displaced families live under deplorable sanitary conditions and grapple with food shortage and insecurity. The conditions have especially deteriorated due to the wintry season and frequent rainfall.
Most of the displaced persons (IDPs) who have escaped from the north towards Bamako have found refuge in Tombouctou (about 64.4 per cent), followed by those in Gao (33.08 per cent), then Kidal (2.04 per cent), and finally Mopti (0.51 per cent).
Oumou Diallo is from the locality of Douentza, in the centre of the country and is one of the IDPs who live a rather difficult life within the periphery of Bamako. A mother of two children, she escaped from the war with her husband a year ago and found refuge in the capital. Dressed in traditional peulh boubou, looking lost, and with her hands trembling, she is visibly eager to be liberated from her predicament.
“Since our arrival, we have lived in very difficult conditions. My husband has been doing menial jobs to meet up with the needs of the family. But his earnings are not sufficient,” she declares with tears in her eyes.
The ethnicity of the IDPs in Bamako varies and, according to an investigation by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), 82 per cent of the IDPs are Songhai, followed by the Bambaras (five per cent), the Bellas (four per cent), the Bozos (three per cent), and the Dogons (two per cent).
Meanwhile, in Bamako, the IDPs are forced into a space where there is neither electricity nor water. Some families depend on the kindness of locals in order to survive.
“We have so many problems finding what to eat. There are so many constraints through which we live on a daily basis,” Diallo reveals.
It would appear that the difficulties faced by the IDPs have been mounting with the rainy reason. There have been heavy downpours in 2020 throughout the country.
“When it rains, it becomes difficult for us to sleep because rainwater invades the interior of our tents,” says Diallo.
“Only God knows the difficulties we are going through. We have so many difficulties. There is neither food nor water. There are some people who sometimes bring us assistance and our husbands also make the rounds in the city in search of something for us. We call on Malians to come to our assistance. Any little aid would be very useful to us.”
According to a UNHCR report, over 160,000 Malians live outside their country. 46,000 migrated to Burkina Faso, 29,000 are in Mali, 56,000 in Mauritania, and 30,000 in Algeria. These numbers continue to increase each time another locality is attacked.
The reasons for the movement of the IDPs are mostly preventive and for security. And while many crave restoration of normalcy, the prevailing situation of the country does not give any hope of a quick return of the IDPs back to their homes.
The absence of state institutions in the localities the refugees are fleeing from or living in has contributed to the hardship faced by the people.
For Boubacar Cisse from the northern region of Mopti, the absence of Malian authorities is the main Achilles heel of the IDPs. He stresses that the displaced persons are also Malians like all other citizens of the country.
“Since we have been here, the Malian authorities have done nothing by way of assistance in order to ameliorate our living conditions. There are personalities claiming to represent the state who have come and drawn a list of the refugees present in the area but after that, nothing has happened,” Cisse says.
He adds that they escaped from their localities of origin leaving behind their belongings because they felt totally unsafe following the harassment of armed groups.
“Since my arrival in Bamako, my condition of life has seriously deteriorated. We have lost all we had. We are obliged to struggle in order to survive. There are Good Samaritans who offer us clothing. They come in vehicles and distribute what they have to refugees. In spite of that, we have nothing.”
When they succeed in arriving at the refugee camps, these usually numerous families live in tents under precarious conditions despite programmes put in place by humanitarian organisations to afford them better lives.
“There is no rice, no millet, nothing. The school has opened its doors but the children are not going to school because of lack of financial means. We also suffer insecurity. We have nothing and the little we have is stolen by thieves,” laments Cisse.
Ousmane Diallo who hails from Mopti region is confronted by various difficult situations on a daily basis. Recalling what his life was before the war that forced him from his locality, he speaks with tears in his eyes. He says, before the war, he was a proud owner of a herd of over 100 cows. In contrast, today he has nothing and is forced to beg from house to house in order to satisfy the basic needs of his family.
“It is two years that I have been here in Bamako. We have problems in meeting our needs and living a normal life. There is neither food nor water here. We have most times been depending on the goodwill of individuals,” he reveals.
While they wait for the new authorities in Bamako to be bestowed full authority, the displaced persons continue to live under difficult conditions. As observers have said that the return of the displaced persons to their original localities is not expected to take place soon, they are forced to have to wait in patience.