Some 70,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania are facing enormous hardships and, as political and ethnic tensions persist back home, the prospect of a prolonged displacement.
Medical aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called for long-term plans to improve the living conditions of the refugees at Mbéra camp, near the Mauritania-Mali border. The camp is in the middle of the desert, where temperatures can soar up to 50 degrees Celsius.
The refugees receive only 11 litres of water per person per day, instead of the 20 litres considered adequate by humanitarian standards. There are few latrines in the camp, and some refugees still lack proper shelter, MSF said in a recent report.
Karl Nawezi, MSF’s Mauritania country director, said the rice, fortified flour and sugar given to the camp’s residents - mainly nomadic pastoralists - were not their staples, and that they were selling the food for milk and meat. The cereals are also insufficiently nutritious for children; admissions for malnutrition have more than tripled between January and the end of March.
“Admissions for severe malnutrition were about 38 children in January. At the end of March, we had more than 150 patients,” Nawezi told IRIN.
Ethnic Tuareg make up the majority of the refugees, who also include Arabs and other ethnic groups from northern Mali, said the MSF report.
Militant Islamists seized swathes of northern Mali following the toppling of president Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012. Conflict, a harsh drought and tough Islamist rule forced civilians to flee to other parts of the country and to neighbouring countries.
A French-led military intervention, launched in January 2013, has dislodged the jihadists from much of northern Mali. However, rights groups have accused the Malian army of targeting the Peuhl, Tuareg and Arab ethnic groups on charges that they helped the Islamists.
“We need to plan for the future because people will not go back home now,” said Nawezi over the phone from Mauritania.