16 Sep 2012 01:00
More than 450,000 people have left their homes since fighting broke out between Tuareg rebel forces and the Malian army earlier this year in January. According to the U.N. Refugee agency, 265,000 former residents of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao, cities now under the occupation of Islamists linked to Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, travelled to refugee camps in Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, while 185,000 more have been internally displaced.
Many of the displaced live with extended families and friends. Others live under whatever shelter they can find. The sudden influx of people is exacerbating an already rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation as food prices continue to rise and health services decline.
They are in need of adequate shelter, food and clean water and complain that they cannot find work. Young people want to study but can’t afford private education. Light-skinned Tuaregs are fearful of being associated with the MNLA and feel discriminated against in Mali’s southern regions.
Although they miss their homes, have found the strength to rebuild some aspects of their old lives and support those struggling around them. Women with babies on their backs carry vegetables and spices to the market each day to bring in meager amounts of money. Families, often separated, keep connected to each other through phone calls. Neighbors share their mosquito netting with newly displaced on their exposed rooftop sleeping quarters.
As the rest of world focuses on the geopolitical consequences of Mali becoming the so-called new “Afghanistan” and the horrors of occupation under Islamist rule, the struggles and resistances of the displaced receive little attention.
Yet these are the people that know firsthand the reality of Mali today. These are the people that know what it is like to lose a home without the hope of return.