BAMAKO - Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes in Mali, where deadly attacks on villages are destabilising an already critical situation in the country’s centre.
More than 200,000 people have fled since the start of the year, almost six times the number that were displaced in the same period last year, according to the Rapid Response Mechanism, a tracking and alert system that helps humanitarian organisations respond to vulnerable people.
Nearly 600 civilians were killed in the first half of 2019, most of them in the central region of Mopti, where villagers including many women and children have borne the brunt of gruesome attacks attributed to ethnic militias.
Herdsmen from the nomadic Fulani ethnic group and hunters from the more settled Dogon have been blamed for these attacks, though neither side has claimed them.
Though there are constant smaller-scale attacks, the most deadly of them were in March, when at least 157 people in Ogossogou lost their lives, and in June, when the mayor of Sobame Da said 95 people had been killed, before the governor revised it down to 35. The true total is still unknown, though an unverified list of 101 names of the dead was circulated on Wednesday.
Civilians say communities are attacking each other, while the military and armed groups are also fighting. The result is a perfect storm in which those mostly affected are the most vulnerable, such as women and children.
“The first victims of this cycle of violence are civilians,” said the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Hassane Hamadou. “They are killed, they are maimed, they are threatened; and their only chance of survival is to flee. Today, people are caught between armed groups, self-defence militias and military forces.”
In a centre sheltering more than 800 women and children in Bandiagara, the mayor of Doucoumbo, Bogo Kassogué, called on the government to respond to the crisis so that everyone could go home and carry on with their lives.
“We have enormous difficulties in this centre – difficulties concerning food, water and hygiene. Each day, more villagers arrive,” he said. “The people arrived here on 20 June so they’ve been here for one week now. There isn’t even enough space to sleep and move.”
There are two other centres in Bandiagara, where conditions are dire, with families huddled in the shadow cast by a wall in the centre, which has only one latrine.
But Yadigné Djiguiba, a 35-year-old mother of five, said there was no way she could go home, considering what she had seen and experienced.
“We fled because it wasn’t safe. There were killings, gunshots and also the presence of armed men,” she said. “As long as they are there, we do not want to go back.”
The attacks in the centre are adding to a crisis in the north that began in 2012 and led to the government losing control of vast swathes of the desert. The humanitarian situation across the country remains critical. Nearly 550,000 people are in urgent need of food, and more than 900 schools are closed.(FA)