Thousands of Touaregs flee into Burkina Faso

At least 8,000 Touaregs fleeing fighting in neighbouring Mali have found refuge in Burkina Faso, having arrived “in a dire humanitarian condition”, the government said yesterday.

It said it would set up a coordination committee to bring the refugees - currently spread between the western and Sahelian parts of the country - to a centralized location and provide education and sanitation.

“The humanitarian situation is alarming because most of them are sleeping in the open air despite the hospitality of their host,” said Modeste Konkobo, humanitarian officer with the Burkina Faso Red Cross.

“With the current bad weather [harmattan winds] this means looming health problems when added to the precarious food, sanitary and drinking water situation for such a huge group,” Konkobo said.

He said the refugees needed immediate “survival assistance” since they had arrived empty-handed. Other needs included blankets, cooking materials, mats and tents. The Red Cross is deploying some 40 volunteers.

Konkobo said refugees were still arriving in “large numbers” in Inabao and Deou (Oudalan Province), and Mentao (Soum Province). Some 4,000 refugees arrived in the region on 8 February.

“We are afraid this will aggravate the already bad food situation with the deficit we are facing,” said Boureima Yiougo, governor of Sahel Region.

The Touareg
The Touareg are nomads who once controlled ancient caravan routs across the Sahara Desert. They inhabit the Southern regions of North Africa – Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. Touareg is an Arabic term meaning abandoned by God. However, they call themselves variously Imohag (translated as free men), Kel Tamasheq or Kel Tamajaq. No one knows where they came from or when they arrived in the Sahara. Their true numbers are unknown but estimates vary between 300,000 and 1.5 million.

The government said 146 of the country’s 350 communes had experienced much lower rains this year and could face “famine”, and that it would subsidize cereals to lessen the impact on residents of the region.

The National Commission for Refugees and the local UNHCR office are due to conduct a joint assessment mission in Sahel Region, which borders Mali.

“They urgently need shelter since they caught us by surprise. We have only five tents,” said Hima Barke, a UNHCR official in Soum Province. “Just a week ago there were 40 refugees in the province, now there are 1,127.”

Mali

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported on 9 February that at least 30,000 displaced people in Mali were in a dire condition because of fighting in the north of the country since mid-January.

In Aguelhoc (150km northeast of Kidal in northeastern Mali), it said, fierce fighting had forced some 4,000 people to flee their homes. Most had little food and were living in improvised shelters in the semi-desert region. A few have been sheltered by host families.

The ICRC said it and the Mali Red Cross were preparing to distribute millet, rice, oil and salt; as well as tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, buckets, kitchen utensils and hygiene items to the displaced.

“The Mali Red Cross has already made an emergency delivery of food for 600 displaced people whose situation was particularly worrying,” the ICRC said.

In Ménaka, Gao Region, clashes prompted almost 26,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety, both within and outside the town, according to ICRC and Mali Red Cross estimates. The ICRC is also assessing the situation in Tessalit (Kidal Region) and Léré and Niafunké (Timbuktu Region), which have also been affected by fighting in the north of Mali. ICRC quoted “local sources” as saying there could still be 20,000 displaced people in these areas.

The fighting that took place in Ménaka and Andéramboukane also prompted over 15,000 people to seek refuge in Niger, in the northern Tillabéry Region just across the border from Mali.

bo/oss/cb