UN expects additional 700,000 refugees as Mali conflict worsens

Saturday, January 19, 2013
UNHCR's Chief Spokesperson Melissa Fleming addressing reporters in Geneva
[PHOTO: UNifeed] 
Geneva: Violence in Mali could uproot an additional 700,000 people in the coming months, including 400,000 who could flee to neighboring countries, the United Nations refugee agency has said.

Conflict in the north of the country has triggered widespread displacement within Mali and into neighbouring countries, uprooting half a million people and placing pressure on vulnerable host communities still recovering from the Sahel drought.

Some 147,000 Malians have already fled to countries including Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria since the crisis began last year. Some 229,000 Malians are already internally displaced within Mali.

The spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, told a news briefing in Geneva her agency believed there could be "in the near future up to 300,000 people additionally displaced inside Mali and over 400,000 additionally displaced in neighbouring countries".

"We have been hearing horrific accounts from refugees in the neighboring countries," Fleming said. "They report having witnessed executions, amputations, and they say also large amounts of money being offered to civilians to fight against the Malian army and its supporters," she said.

"Disturbingly we are also hearing accounts that there are children among the rebel fighters, Also very distressed people saying that family members have just disappeared."

At the same briefing the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned that the crisis in Mali has led to various human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, rape and torture.

These have been documented in a new report requested by the UN's Human Rights Council. The report shows that the current human rights situation is linked to long-standing and unresolved issues, and that human rights violations have been committed both in the North, and in the area under government control.

"Rapes of women and girls, at times in front of family members and often apparently carried out on an ethnic basis, have been repeatedly used in the North to intimidate people and break any form of resistance," said, Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for OHCHR.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme said its food distribution programme in the North was still suspended due to the security situation but that it was ready to resume as soon as possible. "The trucks are loaded", WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said, adding that a third of the 1.8 million people in the North were food insecure. -UNifeed
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