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Thousands of Malian refugees ‘on verge of going home’

Por: Sally Hayden

News of the intensifying clashes in their home country reaches the 12,000 Malian refugees in Mentao camp, Burkina Faso, mainly by word of mouth, meaning much of what they hear is vague or unconfirmed.

Most of them have been absent from their homeland for two years now, but while they still fear for their lives and fear that the violence is escalating, many are making the decision to return anyway.

The camp is just south of Djibo, in the Sahel region, where the temperature often reaches the high 40s. Flies buzz, chickens cluck, and the sound of babies crying is constantly in the air. Amid transient-looking tents with plastic coverings there are solar panels and satellite dishes.

Ali Kassoum (52) is an Arab from Timbuktu – 540km away – and the president of the camp’s mental centre committee. He has been living here since the violence broke out in 2012.

Cycle of violence

“The risk is of going mad because of the psychological pressure.

You are not in your own house, you are a refugee, you are losing your personality and if we keep on this way people will turn mad and it will be a cycle of violence and rebellion.”

In a nearby shelter four women sit making crafts. They represent four ethnicities: Tuareg, Fulani, Songho and Arab.

Tata Ment Alwata (60) fled Mali in March 2012, along with 11 members of her family. They travelled by foot for 14 days, “without anything but a little water to drink”.

She says their arrival in Burkina was hard. “With the change of environment we experienced a lot of illnesses when we arrived, mainly diarrhoea, malnutrition, fevers. Before we got acclimatised to it we met a lot of problems.”

Each refugee receives 6kg of rice a month from the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, as well as 3,500 CFA francs (€5.34), a sum designed to give them some feeling of autonomy. But many complain that this is not enough.

Under a trial scheme, Alwata is one of 200 women who was given funding to begin trading in the camp. Together they breed animals for reselling and engage in trade on small items like cigarettes. “Just this feeling of doing something, being useful is enough for us at the moment.”

She says that “as soon as peace and security is back in Mali my first wish will be going back”, but she has to be certain the situation is stable. After all, she says, “terror is not something we heard about. It’s something we witnessed.”

Abdullah Ould Mohammad (50) shows us inside his tent, a sandy-floored dome containing just a mattress. During the wet season the ground is so dry that it floods.

He tells us his life was completely different in Mali. “I had my own house there.” But even if he was to return, he says that his house has been ransacked. “The doors, the mattress, the stools, they have all been taken.”

Fonte: The Irish Times - 21.05.2014


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