(Editor’s Note: Over the past three weeks, Geoff Weiss and Andrea Papitto have written a series of blog posts about incredible towns and sites in Mali. Recently, a humanitarian crisis has gripped the country and friends of the writers have sent Geoff and Andrea missives of displacement and violence. For the next week and a half, Africa.com will publish the stories of these refugee citizens. We’ll continue with the Mali travel series later this month.)
Beyond its awe-inspiring sites, scholastic treasures and mythic cities, Mali is home to a diverse and warm-hearted people. Consequently—and given our deep ties and longstanding relationships there—we at Africa.com must temporarily turn away from our cultural examination of the country to refocus on the current humanitarian crisis occurring there.
Following the insurgency of a heavily-armed Tuareg rebel group seeking land possession in Mali’s north, over 30,000 Tuareg citizens have fled the country in fear of violence. Among those currently seeking refugee status in neighboring nations such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger are thousands of peaceful Tuareg citizens who have long lived safely in Mali but are now, increasingly, falling victim to retaliatory attacks.
Throughout the next week, in the hopes of spreading awareness and garnering aid, we will be bringing you firsthand accounts from displaced Tuareg citizens who have lost everything—their work, their homes, their very lives as they knew them. Coming from various walks of life, each profile will aim to provide a slightly different glimpse into the current tragedy told from the perspective of those victims currently in its throes.
Assan Midal, 32, Tourism Expert/Child Activist/Cultural Promoter at AP Imidiwan. (Click on the photo for a slideshow of images from refugee camps in and around Mali.)
My name is Assan Midal. I’m 32 years old and Tuareg by birth. I work in tourism, promoting Tuareg culture abroad through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I also work for an association called AP Imidiwan that helps nomadic Tuareg children in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya.
I left Bamako for safety reasons—Tuaregs there feel unsafe as their houses are being attacked by their neighbors or others who have developed racial hatred towards the Kel Tamashek and Moors. Personally, I haven’t experienced any attacks, but I know several people whose homes and shops were burnt down.
People have left the city by car (for those who can afford it) or by camel or donkey, though the Malian army and militias have attempted to prevent us from seeking refuge. I am currently in Burkina Faso, but in the next few days will be continuing on to Niger or perhaps Algeria. Many people I know are temporarily renting houses—often with several families together under one roof—while they wait to see how the situation will evolve.
At the moment, NGOs have not yet offered any aid and organizations like the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) must intervene. Currently, our most urgent needs are food, shelter, health care, water and education for children who were forced to abandon their schools.
To help the humanitarian crisis in Mali, you can make a donation to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Indicate OTHER OPERATIONS and then select “Niamey (Regional – Covers Mali and Niger).”
Geoff Weiss and Andrea Papitto first traveled to West Africa together in 2005. Geoff is a freelance journalist based in Lyon, France. Andrea is currently producing Essakane Film, a documentary on the Festival in the Desert, where she met many of her Tuareg friends who are now refugees. Photographs provided by Assan Midal. Contributions made by Andrea Papitto.