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


 Sowing the seeds of tomorrow’s resilience: education, economic security and changes in behaviour

In these chronically vulnerable host regions of the Sahel, it is of primary importance to design and coordinate socio-economic support programmes, both for refugees who are preparing to go home and also for host communities and those who have been reintegrated. In order to do this, a variety of joint evaluation missions have been put in place during 2014 in order to identify potential and priority operational sectors (in Niger and in Mauritania).

Consequently, if we look at the situation in terms of community resilience and self-sufficiency, the presence of refugees can be seen as a factor of development on which organisations can base their operational strategies. According to the Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) [17] carried out in Niger, their presence has boosted the markets around the Intekane refugee hosting area and considerably developed the area, thanks to the increased availability of water and healthcare, and also due to the increased trade made possible by Tuareg networks between Mali and Niger. According to the prefect, “a city has been born”. In the same way, the influx of humanitarian aid has stimulated the markets and the region of Bassikounou at a time when the Mbera camp was considered to be the third biggest city in Mauritania. Of course, these phenomena may turn out to be transitory depending on the possibility of returns (whether long-term or not) and the splitting up of Tuareg fractions who sometimes define themselves on the basis of local markets which emerge.


  • Food and economic security

Assistance programmes should be combined with support for the refugees’ productive capacities in order to help them become self-sufficient.

There is already a great deal of demand on the part of the refugees for educational programmes, literacy programmes, professional training and programmes promoting individual and community income-generating activities (IGA) [18]. IGAs would make it possible to include the refugees more in the return process, to make aid investment more sustainable and eventually promote the economic and financial autonomy of returnees in Mali.

Supporting the self-sufficiency of refugees would make it possible to develop un-exploited economic potential, such as cross-border trade, which is a characteristic and “comparative advantage” of these nomadic communities (refugees and hosts).

Another interesting course of action which could benefit both host and refugee communities would be livestock support programmes, with or without slaughter. Buying animals from a few herders helps to distribute live animals (for the rearing of small ruminants) or food to certain beneficiaries. At the same time it injects money and stimulates the local economy.

When there is a drought in the future, destocking operations will help to control the size of the herds by limiting the risks of famine and disease for the remaining animals. This type of activity can be organized in collaboration with the local veterinary services (setting up of slaughtering areas) and with women’s cooperatives for the preparation of dried meat. ICRC’s activities in this area in Mali and Niger have been edifying [19].

By giving disadvantaged people means of production and a social activity, IGAs also have positive effects in terms of protection and gender equality. Productive activities reduce the adoption of harmful coping strategies (e.g. difficult activities for women and children in mining sites and/or prostitution). They also encourage social interaction [20], expression and involvement in decision-making within households and the community.

[17] JAM: Joint Assessment Mission PAM/HCR, September 2013.

[18] Among the activities carried out successfully were crafts (leatherwork, jewellery-making), livestock rearing and recycling of plastic bags.

[19] Cf. http://www.irinnews.org/printreport.aspx?reportid=90566

[20] In addition to the activity and social relations that they generate, productive groups (collective gardens, trade and women’s cooperatives, etc.) can set up solidarity funds which can be used to help members if they have short-term problems.