Tuaregs flee MaliSeveral hundred civilians fleeing fighting between the army and Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have crossed the border into Burkina Faso since April. Over 300, mostly women and children, have been registered by the Burkina Faso National Commission for Refugees (CONAREF) in Ouagadougou, where they are being sheltered in locker rooms at the football stadium. A further 600 are setting up makeshift shelters in Djibo, some 50 kilometers from the Mali border. “The number of refugees arriving and claiming asylum is increasing,” CONAREF official Kogda Der told the UN news agency IRIN.
Violence between Malian troops and Tuareg guerillas has been mounting over recent months. On May 21, the Malian government confirmed 27 soldiers and rebels were killed and 31 wounded in clashes in the north of the country.
A previous Tuareg insurgency in northern Mali and Niger in the 1990s resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilians being displaced to neighboring countries. Many returned after a peace agreement was signed between Mali’s government and the rebels in 1995. Refugee Mohamed Alher Ag Abou, 27, remembers fleeing with his parents in 1993. He told IRIN: “This time we came with our cattle. In 1997 when we returned home we found all our cattle had disappeared.”
Joint teams from Burkina Faso’s government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are assessing the extent of the needs in the capital and Djibo. “The priority now is to set up refugee camps in Ouagadougou and Djibo,” said Der. The government plans to set up a camp in Saag Nioniogo, a suburb of Ouagadougou which hosted hundreds of Tuareg refugees in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the government is already struggling to find shelter for some 542 Ouagadougou residents made homeless by the onset of the first heavy rains of the season on May 24. (IRIN, May 29)