Prepare for refugee crisis in Mali
January 17th, 2013
11:57 AM ET

Prepare for refugee crisis in Mali

By Andrea Lari, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrea Lari is the Director of Programs at Refugees International, a DC-based non-profit organization. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The French military intervention in Mali is just a few days old, and there is plenty of uncertainty about the operation’s strategy and potential outcomes. But one thing is clear: as this campaign escalates, more civilians are being forced to flee their homes – exacerbating a humanitarian crisis that has plagued Mali for more than a year. Governments and aid agencies in the region must be prepared for the worst and take steps immediately to assist this new wave of displaced Malians.

First, Mali’s neighbors must help civilians in the conflict zone get out of harm’s way. Though there is a need to limit the mobility of jihadist groups, there is no excuse for keeping civilian families penned into dangerous areas. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger all must keep their borders open, and they must help Malian refugees register and get the aid they need.

Second, Malians who are fleeing fighting in the north must be allowed to enter the south of the country unmolested. There are already alarming reports of jihadist groups keeping civilians from leaving conflict areas. And while such inexcusable behavior on their part is not surprising, there are also indications that Malian authorities have engaged in similar tactics. For a sovereign state to behave this way is completely unacceptable. If these reports are confirmed, then France, the United States, and the United Nations must pressure their Malian counterparts to halt these abuses.

More from GPS: France needs more than force in Mali

Third, aid agencies and state authorities in neighboring countries must help refugees to move away from the Malian border. While refugees should not be forced to move, tens of thousands of individuals will want to relocate and will need help. The U.N. and its partners have facilitated these movements for months, but the process must now be sped up dramatically: the danger to vulnerable families will only grow as Mali’s borders become more militarized.

Finally, aid agencies and their donors should be ready for the worst and anticipate that thousands more displaced Malians will seek refuge in the south of the country. In October, a colleague and I visited Mali to meet with those already displaced by the conflict and assess their situation. We found that humanitarian needs in the south were largely unmet and growing at that time, but now they will swell even more. Aid groups will need to address a wide range of issues, but their immediate focus should be identifying people in need and providing shelter, food, healthcare, and other lifesaving interventions. Many displaced Malians will also be seeking help from relatives and friends in urban areas. These host communities – already strained by previous waves of new arrivals – must be supported as well.

Action on these four issues is urgent. Whatever course Mali’s conflict might take in the coming days, governments and aid agencies must work together now to meet the needs of displaced Malians, ensure that their rights are respected, and limit the human toll of this ongoing crisis.

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Topics: Africa

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soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Quigley

    The longer the U.S. and and Great Britain stays out of this conflict, the fewer refugees there will be. Non intervention is the best policy here that we can follow. Let's encourage the French to negotiate instead.

    January 17, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      Let's not. Terrorism must be rooted out and annihilated. "Negotiate" indeed!

      January 18, 2013 at 8:22 am | Reply
      • Terry

        You paying for it? Are volunteering to go? Didn't think so.

        January 18, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • I Am God

      I am sure you didn't even understand your comment as much as I didn't understand it. There are going to be refugees either way in Mali due to the actions of the terrorist groups in the North. Refugees don't just occur when the United States get involved.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:54 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        True, some 144,500 Malian refugees had already been registered in neighbouring countries since April 2012, when the Islamists marched into the north. The living conditions Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso are hardly any better than being at home. The flare-up in violence recently has prompted another 30,000 people to be displaced from their homes.

        January 19, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  2. Dark tater

    Queue sad music Violins.... now send in the Women and children... slowly Malawi! slowly Mate ... just drag the leg for a few frames!

    January 17, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Reply
    • maxmaxwell

      sooooo funny !!!!!!!!!!!!

      January 18, 2013 at 6:10 am | Reply
    • shootmyownfood

      Malawi and Mali are two different countries. Fail!

      January 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  3. No fool

    France would do better to get rid of jihadists within her own borders. Preferably kicking out as well the rotten politicians that betrayed her so horribly and continue to do so.

    January 17, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Reply
    • Sagebrush Shorty

      Your comment could apply equally to the United States.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply
    • I Am God

      Islamophobia getting to you?

      January 18, 2013 at 8:54 am | Reply
      • Ronald

        Yes, because it is dangerous. Moreso than any other popular religion right now. FACT.

        January 18, 2013 at 9:26 am |
      • Terry

        Not a phobia if it's real.

        January 18, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  4. empresstrudy

    In a region larger than France with a total population less than Washington DC I tend to think there will be no refugee crisis

    January 17, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Reply
    • synp

      There's a lot of real estate, but it's mostly desert. Very little of it is inhabitable in the short term.

      January 18, 2013 at 1:07 am | Reply
      • rhondajo3


        January 18, 2013 at 3:51 am |
    • shootmyownfood

      Is that because you think all the displaced people will land on working farms with crops already in the fields and can just continue on as usual? Being a refugee means being displaced from your home. There may be plenty of space to move to, but no home or livelihood.

      January 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  5. Langkard

    This refugee crisis is nothing compared to what is coming by the end of this century. A recent mostly conservative estimate has sea levels rising at least 1 meter by 2100. In the U.S. alone , 3.7 million people live near a coast and at or below that 1 meter distance above sea level. Worldwide, the number is upwards of 100 million within that 1 meter zone.

    To put that in perspective, the largest refugee immigration to date is the estimated 1 million Afghans who left Afghanistan during the 1980's due to the USSR-Afghanistan war. It created a massive refugee crisis in neighboring countries like Iran, Pakistan and the "stans" of the USSR. Nowhere on Earth has there ever been a refugee population of 3+ million like there will be in the USA, much less the 100+ million worldwide. Expect famine, disease, wars for clean water and economic collapse.

    And that is just from the average sea level rising 1 meter. It doesn't include flooding disasters from storms which would be far above the 1 meter level.

    If you aren't worried, you should be. The beginnings of that worldwide disaster won't be at the 2100 end of the 1 meter sea level rise. It'll be with the flooding from storms added to much less than a 1 meter rise.

    January 18, 2013 at 2:52 am | Reply
    • synp

      Let me rephrase this. Within the next 87 years, 4 million Americans will have to move.

      Doesn't sound so disastrous any more, right?

      January 18, 2013 at 5:25 am | Reply
      • Frank

        Have you seen what happens when evacuations are ordered to major cities when massive predictable hurricanes are on the way? Now lets escalate that to every major port city in the entire world. Every single year there will be more hurricanes/typhoons and billions or trillions of dollars worth of damage to repair as we rebuild in the same stupid places again and again and again.

        So we can either react to these horrible situations as they smack us in the face, or we can predict and prepare now and save millions of lives and dollars in the process, forward thinking is a character quality missing from 95% of the populace that could really use some working on.

        January 18, 2013 at 6:26 am |
    • Chameleo

      Don't forget the third World War that will arrive out of desperation during this crisis and many others.

      January 18, 2013 at 6:45 am | Reply
      • Anthony

        Mr. Zak,
        You sound a bit apologetic here. What is the solution here? I know many Malians who studied with me. The country must be saved from becoming a heaven from Islamic terrorist. I feel sorry for Islam. The religion seems to have been hijacked by the personal interest of some. Please write something on how to save the moderate Islam, Sufisim, etc.

        January 18, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • knucklecheese


      January 18, 2013 at 8:04 am | Reply
    • Brian

      There were many more refugees than that in WW2. Review some history books.

      January 18, 2013 at 8:24 am | Reply
    • I'm not sure about you...

      ... I plan to be dead by then.

      January 18, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Reply
    • Ontheborder

      Refugee crisis? Come to California, there are close to 10 million Mexican Nationals here that have escaped poverty and violence in Mexico for the past few years and ended up only marginally better on this side of the border. Add a few thousand formerly employed Americans of every race coming here from all over the country recently due to lax welfare standards, that is a national refugee problem, not just a CA problem. It is time to have a national refugee counsel for America but that isn't going to happen anytime soon.

      January 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  6. Rick

    Prepare for a refugee crisis in SYRIA, when islamists gain control and a million or more syrian christians flee for their lives.

    January 18, 2013 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • urinator

      Jeebus will save them!

      January 18, 2013 at 10:47 am | Reply
  7. urinator

    wogs on the way!

    January 18, 2013 at 10:40 am | Reply
  8. Warrior

    Muslims are destroying the world with their barbaric stone-age terrorism.

    January 18, 2013 at 11:51 am | Reply
  9. Jokesterer

    Is there oil in Mali? Nope? Then we don't care.

    January 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  10. Musashi

    Bring all refugees to the US.
    Sprinkle them among the blue states.
    Maybe they can fix the country?

    January 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  11. Der

    I think you were coming up with a typical 'African crisis' article but Mali is one of the largest countries in the world in terms of area with 14 million population and about 500,000 residing in the northern parts.
    Therefore there isn't much of a refugee situation brewing since the situation is really contained in the vast empty desert areas of the north

    January 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  12. alan

    Romney was the first to mention problems in Mali and the liberal media blasted him along with all the democratic leaders. So much for knowing the truth. Remember, the truth isnt as important as the political affiliation. Liberals suck

    January 22, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  13. Kortney Kimberley

    Several types of phobias exist. Some people fear large, open spaces. Others are unable to tolerate certain social situations. And still others have a specific phobia, such as a fear of snakes, elevators or flying. :^`*

    Our very own online site

    July 1, 2013 at 7:43 am | Reply

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