Malians are slowly returning from refuge in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger as stability improves more than a year after a military coup and an insurgency shook the West African country.
Some 8,148 people who returned on their own were registered between 25 June and 12 July in Mali’s Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu regions. It is the most significant number of returnees since reports emerged of spontaneous returns, said Anouk Desgroseilliers, an information officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mali.
“There are still explosive remnants of war, robberies in some regions as well as a sense of wariness, but the lull in violence over the past three months, and the presence of the army, the authorities and the local administration is encouraging returns,” said Boni Mpaka, OCHA’s deputy head of office in Mali.
More than 175,000 Malians are still living in refuge and 353,455 others have been displaced within the country since the outbreak of violence mainly in northern Mali following the March 2012 coup.
“We are not encouraging any returns at the moment. But we are assessing the needs the returnees will have,” Desgroseilliers said. Aid groups voice worry about high malnutrition rates in northern Mali’s Gao Region, which they say could worsen with the spontaneous return of refugees. The global acute malnutrition rate is 13.5 percent, slightly below the 15 percent emergency threshold.
The country’s elections set for 28 July are also encouraging returns, said Lucien Simba, a humanitarian affairs officer with OCHA in Dakar. “People hope things are going to change.” The authorities have set plans for refugees in neighbouring countries to vote.
"Search for pasture, preparation for next year return to school, the upcoming elections, people coming to verify the status of their homes and belongings; there are several reasons why people are gradually moving to Mali," the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), told IRIN.
However, the returnees lack sufficient food, need to be helped in rebuilding their homes and restocking their animals. Children will also need conditions in place a part from safety, teachers and functional schools for returning to school next year. A lot of efforts should be channeled to work on social cohesion and rebuilding resilience capacities at the community level which has been weakened by the unrest, DRC said.
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