Burkina Faso: inadequate and insufficient support for the 46 000 Malian refugees

Forty-six thousand Malians have taken refuge in Burkina Faso since mid-January. Of that number, 35,000 are in Oudalan province alone, in the northern part of the country. In this desert area where aid is very limited, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are providing emergency medical aid in the refugee camps, where needs outstrip resources.

Burkina Faso is the country with the second-largest number of Malian refugees (after Mauritania). Clashes between Tuareg rebels and the Army in northern Mali have driven nearly 268,000 people to flee into Mali's interior and neighboring countries. But in Burkina Faso, providing aid is proving difficult, and yet more refugees continue to arrive daily.

The refugees have settled in four camps in the north of Deou district, in the province of Oudalan and have been living in particularly precarious conditions for weeks in makeshift shelters. They have only a few pounds of foodstuffs and must wait endlessly under a brutal sun for a few liters of water. "We left everything when we fled our country," says Fatima, a refugee in the Ferrerio camp. "I am with my children. We have nothing. We're living in the open here."

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) plans to group the refugees together on a new site that is unsuitable and where there are no water points or shade. Nearly three months after the clashes began and despite the massive inflow of people, food aid is still limited. "The World Food Program was slow to respond and the aid it is providing is neither sufficient nor appropriate to the refugees' dietary practices," says Jean HEREU, MSF head of mission in Burkina Faso.  

After making food and water distributions in Mentao, in the province of Soum, the first camp to be formalized in early February, MSF started working in the province of Oudalan in early March. The MSF teams are providing support to the Gandafaou health post and send mobile clinics to the Ferrerio camp. The staff has held more than 1,600 medical visits in four weeks, treating respiratory infections, dermatoses and gastric illnesses, which are characteristic of a lack of hygiene and access to water.   

MSF provides free care to the refugees and to the local population, with drought gripping the entire region. "This is putting Burkina Faso's hospitality to a severe test," Hereu says. "The area where the refugees have settled has been hard hit by the lack of rainfall, which affects the cereal harvest and has a direct impact on household food security."  

MSF will work in the Dibissi and Ngatourou-nienie camps, too, and is assessing the situation regularly to adjust its medical response to the populations' needs.

MSF is also providing aid to Malian refugees in Mauritania and Niger.  The organisation is working in northern Mali (Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and Mopti), where the teams provide primary medical care to populations displaced by fighting.
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