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The current situation facing Malian refugees in the Sahel: some operational ideas for a prolonged emergency situation
Valérie Léon


 Facilitating returns and/or the local integration of refugees with the objective of finding sustainable solutions.

In the future, returns will mostly be decided by fraction leaders (thus there is the possibility of “small group” or collective returns [4]), and are therefore linked to the current negotiation process. The most politicized refugee leaders – many of whom went through a period of exile in the 1990s – insist that they cannot return to Mali as long as security conditions and minimal basic services (health, education) have not been re-established in North Mali.

Depending on how the context and needs evolve, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could consider facilitated return processes. When the circumstances were favourable (2nd half of 2013), UNHCR decided to facilitate spontaneous returns [5], in collaboration with HCR Mali, who are responsible for the follow-up in terms of protection and reintegration programmes (such as the distribution of supplies) [6].

This said, there is a risk that the implementation of such a programme would come up against several concrete difficulties. Due to limited presence in the field [7] and the prevalence of areas where there is insecurity, the HCR will find it difficult to provide the returnees with protection, even if this was just informing them of the situation in the regions they are returning to (safety, rehabilitation and functioning of basic services…). It will also be particularly difficult to monitor returnees and to avoid the possibility of to-ing and fro-ing between return areas and host areas whereas the security situation could deteriorate suddenly in certain localized pockets.

According to the recent report by the African Union [8] and despite the ceasefire agreement which was signed on 23 May [9], the situation remains marked by persistent security incidents and the pursuit of attacks by the armed terrorist groups who are still active in the three regions in the North (Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu), such as in the Adrar des Ifoghas, in the extreme north-east of the country. Numerous attacks, kidnapping incidents and clashes between communities have also been reported in recent months.

The report by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council also states that the “continuous deterioration of the political and security situation in Libya, compounds the security concerns in the region”. At the same time, the countries in the region are pursuing their efforts to reinforce security cooperation and put into operation the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in the Sahelo-Saharan region (Nouakchott process launched by the African Union in March 2013).

[4] As opposed to a « drip-by-drip » individual return process.

[5] For example, by giving around 70 USD for transportation.

[6] The World Bank could also provide support.

[7] Groupe URD organised a round table on issues of humanitarian space in Bamako in February 2014. http://www.urd.org/Workshop-Humanitarian-space-and

[8] UA (2014), « Report on Mali and the Sahel and the activities of the African Union mission for Mali and the Sahel”, Peace and Security Council, 11 August 2014.

[9] The terms of the agreement are that the armed groups who were occupying the town of Kidal (such as the MNLA, the Haut Conseil pour l’unité de l’Azawad - HCUA, le Mouvement Arabe de l’Azawad - MAA) made a commitment to end hostilities, to take part in inclusive talks, to free the members of the Malian security forces and the civilians that they had taken as prisoners and to facilitate humanitarian operations. As for the inclusive peace talks launched in Alger, they allowed a Declaration of the end of hostilities to be adopted (24 July 2014) at the same time as the Peace process Road Map, thus strengthening the ceasefire agreement.