GENEVA, Switzerland, February 4, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The recent fighting and troop movements compelled thousands of people to move within Mali or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Some of them are now starting to return home, but they are totally destitute and living in extremely precarious conditions. The ICRC and the Mali Red Cross continue to provide them with assistance, in particular food.
“We’re seeing that the displaced are starting to go home, especially in certain parts of central and northern Mali,” says Jean-Nicolas Marti, head of the ICRC regional delegation for Mali and Niger. “Returning families, like those that are still displaced, have no food or basic necessities. As for the families who never left, they have no more resources to share.”
Displaced persons and returnees in urgent need
“The people who fled Konna for Mopti and Sévaré are starting to return,” observes Philippe Mbonyingingo, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Mopti, who is on the spot. “But their situation is precarious and we distributed food to them yesterday.” In all, more than 7,200 people have received food aid from the ICRC and the Mali Red Cross.
On 30 and 31 January, over 3,300 displaced people still in Mopti and Sévaré also received food assistance from the local branch of the Mali Red Cross.
Population movements have also been reported in the Kidal area, in north-eastern Mali. On 31 January, an ICRC team travelled to Tinzauatine, near the Algerian border, to assess the needs of the displaced there, who are said to number several thousand.
“We’ve already provided assistance to over 15,000 people since the fighting resumed, and we will continue our emergency activities for as long as needs exist,” says Jean-Nicolas Marti. “We now have greater access to the areas affected by the recent hostilities and we’re trying to respond as quickly as possible to the most urgent needs.”
In terms of medical assistance, the priority now is to ensure displaced civilians and returnees can obtain care. To that end, the ICRC is providing support to the hospitals in Gao and Sévaré and to six health centres between Ansongo and Timbuktu.
Families separated by the conflict
Because of the conflict, many families have been separated and scattered within Mali and beyond its borders. Their situation has been exacerbated in recent days as telephone networks have been cut in the main towns in the north of the country. The ICRC and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in neighbouring countries are working to reunite family members or to help them re-establish contact.
Respect for international humanitarian law: a must
The ICRC continues to remind all the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular as regards the protection of the civilian population and people who are no longer fighting. “Our field teams are monitoring the situation closely, and we’re taking all reports of violations of international humanitarian law very seriously”, says Jean-Nicolas Marti. “When the allegations we receive are confirmed, we raise the matter without delay with the parties concerned, as part of our strictly bilateral and confidential dialogue with them.”