On January 17, the Tuareg rebellion broke out again in northeastern Mali. This revolt was triggered by fighters of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), from the deposed regime of Muammar Gaddafi. They returned to Mali very heavily armed. This movement, which is demanding political autonomy for a territory called the Azawad—the northern part of the current Mali—has had a series of military successes against the Malian army. Two months later, on March 22, the rebels indirectly caused a coup in Mali. On April 6, the MNLA proclaimed the independence of the State of Azawad. This “unilateral” proclamation has been rejected by the international community. But the Tuareg movement says the move offers a definitive solution to the problems of the inhabitants of this vast region.
The conflict between northern and southern Mali has gone on since the country’s independence in 1960, with a first revolt in 1963 followed by uprisings in 1990 and 2006. In 2012, the conflict reached proportions that produced quite disturbing humanitarian consequences.
Indeed, clashes between rebels and the army led to the exile of 210,000 people—both as internally displaced persons and as refugees in neighboring countries. In the last three months about 70,000 have arrived in Mauritania. As in 1990, they are women, children, and men who have left everything behind to flee.
The exiles have been settled in humanitarian camps in the far southeast of Mauritania. There, drought has produced desert-like conditions of wind, heat, thirst, and epidemics. To take stock of the situation of these refugees, we spoke with the head of a Mauritanian NGO that was the first humanitarian organization to provide assistance to the refugees fleeing northern Mali.
1 / Can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Sidi Mohamed Mahmoud (“Hamada”), from Nouakchott, Mauritania. I am president of a humanitarian organization Organization for Assistance to Sick and Needy Children (OAEMSD).
2 / What does your organization do?
Our headquarters is located in Nouakchott. We created this association to help the many needy children threatened by disease, poverty, lack of education and underdevelopment in general. We are a team consisting of a president, a secretary general, a treasurer, an auditor, an external relations officer, and five permanent members. We are represented by some forty volunteers in the capital Nouakchott and in the interior of the country.
3 / Specifically, what actions are you carrying out?
We work with children who are sick and needy; we provide them with health and educational support. We facilitate these children’s access to nutritional support and basic health services. We help them use their creativity and we also help them prepare for apprenticeships and education in general. We conduct programs that lead to the children’s involvement in artistic and cultural events. We have just returned from an emergency mission to help Malian Refugees in southeastern Mauritania.
4 / Can you tell us about the situation of these Malian refugees today in Mauritania?
Since January 25, 2012, tens of thousands of people have fled the armed conflict in northern Mali and many of them have found refuge in Mauritania. To date, the exiles are all in the Mbéra camps (60 km from the border). They are about 70,000 people according to official figures. A transit center was established by UNHCR in Fassala to receive the refugees and send them on to Mbéra.
There is a discrepancy between the figures of the authorities and those of UNHCR. This difference is due to the fact that some refugees arrive with their animals directly at the camp, while others stay near the border and are not taken into account by the UN agency. To this must be added some families that UNHCR has registered and taken under its protection at the Mbéra camps. The authorities and UNHCR will meet to try to harmonize their figures.
It should also be noted that there are more than 3,500 Malian refugees in the city of Nouakchott without any assistance.
5 / How did your organization step in to help in the refugee camps?
We were the first to respond at the refugee camp in February 2012.
When we entered the camp the refugee population was estimated at 13,000 people. They were in disastrous situation characterized by fear and despair as well as a lack of shelter and food. We provided assistance consisting of a lot of medicines, clothes for the children, and blankets. This assistance was needed to assess the basic needs of the refugees.
6 / Why did you send aid so quickly—faster than the large organizations known for helping in emergencies?
As a humanist and president of a humanitarian NGO I could not simply sit with my arms crossed while faced with the indescribable situation of these refugees displaced by armed violence and facing fear and hunger.
7 / There are roughly 70,000 persons (or more) today in the camps. Where are we in terms of international humanitarian aid?
In the area of international humanitarian intervention in health, education, food and drinking water, we can point to such large organizations such as WFP (World Food Program) that, along with UNHCR, has made a large donation of food supplies and tents. Other bodies such as MSF-Belgium, International Solidarity and UNICEF have contributed in the areas of health, water, and education. But in any case, according to spokespersons of the refugees, the aid is insufficient. And the education situation is worrying. The future of thousands of children—students at the primary and secondary level—is dark.
8 / Do you plan to go again with your organization to carry out programs at the camps?
After our return from the camp, our organization has always envisaged returning again. But this time we want to go slowly but surely after assessing the needs of the camp in comparison to our means.
9 / Would you like to make an appeal?
I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all national and international humanitarian organizations to respond to this alarming plea from the homeless refugees who find themselves in a drought-stricken desert, under the scorching sun, fleeing war in hopes of finding peace and prosperity. We call on all those of good will to help us fulfill our humanitarian mission for the refugees. Any help is welcome.
Contact the Association:
Sidi Mohamed Mahmoud
Head Office islet G² lot No. 009 B.P: 1234
Tel: (landline): +222.25.00.88.93