(UNHCR) – Some 5,600 Malian refugees crossed into Niger last week saying they fled because of continuing conflict in the north or for fear of possible reprisals by the Malian army. The fresh arrivals also said that more people were on their way to Niger.
The refugees, mainly women and children, are from the regions of Kidal and Menaka and travelled by foot or on donkeys. They began arriving on March 28 and are staying at Mentes and Midal, in a remote desert area of northern Niger, a UNHCR spokesman said.
Mentes is located about 920 kilometres from Niamey and 420 kms from Tahoua, where UNHCR is looking after 17,000 other Malian refugees. It takes a six hour-drive across the desert to reach the area from Tahoua.
“Reception conditions are very precarious. The only available water – which contains clay – is drawn from pools. No health facilities are available,” said the spokesman, Adrian Edwards, adding: “We are planning to relocate these refugees to Midal, where we can better assist them and where there is a functioning well.”
Joint and separate missions with local authorities and the World Food Programme have been organized to register new arrivals and distribute food and non-food items. More than 2,400 people who arrived before March 28 have received aid. The rest will benefit from the next distribution.
The spokesman said UNHCR was in the process of redeploying staff and resources to this area, which had previously been without a refugee influx. Distributions of food and non-food assistance will continue. In addition, needs assessments and surveys are being organized to ascertain other needs.
There are an estimated 175,000 Malian refugees in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. This includes 37,530 people who have fled since January.
By Charlotte Arnaud in Niamey, Niger (unhcr)