BURKINA FASO-MALI: Hundreds of Touareg refugees flee escalating violence

Friday, May 30, 2008
Several hundred Malians fleeing fighting between the army and Touareg rebels in northern Mali have crossed the border into Burkina Faso since April, according to the Burkina Faso national commission for refugees (CONAREF).

Over 300 refugees, most of them women and children, have been registered in Ouagadougou where they are sheltering in locker rooms in the football stadium, while a further 600 are setting up makeshift shelters in Djibo, 53 km from the Mali border and 205 km north of the capital.

“The number of refugees arriving and claiming asylum is increasing,” Kogda Der, a CONAREF official, told IRIN.

More potential refugees are waiting at the Mali-Burkina Faso border to hear if the first arrivals will be settled before venturing to cross, Der said.

“More refugees will arrive… if the fighting does not stop,” confirmed refugee Ag Agalas Issa in Ouagadougou.


Violence between Malian soldiers and Touareg rebels has been mounting over recent months and on 21 May the Malian government confirmed 27 soldiers and rebels were killed and 31 wounded in clashes in northern Mali, causing concern among military officers that the rebels are increasingly strong and audacious.

A previous revolt by Touaregs in northern Mali and Niger in the 1990s resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilians being displaced into neighbouring countries, many of them to Burkina Faso, requiring a major relief operation.

Many refugees returned after a peace agreement was signed between the Mali government and the Touareg rebels in 1995.

Refugee Mohamed Alher Ag Abou, 27, remembers fleeing with his parents in 1993 during the second uprising between Touareg rebels and the Malian army.

“This time we came with our cattle. In 1997 when we returned home we found all our cattle had disappeared.”

Government ‘unprepared’

Joint teams from the government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), assessed the extent of the needs in the capital and Djibo on 28 May and are preparing a response.

“The priority now is to set up refugee camps in Ouagadougou and Djibo,” said Der.

The government plans to set up a camp in Saag Nioniogo, a suburb of Ouagadougou which hosted hundreds of Touareg refugees in the 1990s.

“We are appealing to partners to help set up camps and provide food because the government has no budget for this kind of emergency,” Der told IRIN.

The government is already struggling to find shelter for some 542 Ouagadougou residents made homeless by the onset of the first heavy rains of the season on 24 May.