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

  • Education

In the Education sector in the camps, the HCR’s results fall short of their objectives. In April 2014, school attendance rates were estimated to be around 50% in Tabareybarey camp in Niger, 38% in Mbera camp in Mauritania (though only 15% for 12-17 year olds) and 25% in the Godebo camp of Burkina Faso [21].

This is explained by the fact that the targeted population, whether refugees or local, are not very familiar with school. As a consequence, educational capacity is generally very weak in the areas where Malian refugees are taken in. To provide education in the camps, everything had to be built from scratch: the building of the schools, recruitment, teacher training, and raising awareness amongst the parents about the importance of education and regular attendance at school. Though this action strategy can meet the needs of communities in exile in part, it is nevertheless not adapted to pastoral communities who are nomadic. Ideally, mobile education systems should be developed and put in place.

Within refugee communities, the activities of the HCR and its operational partners should be supported to promote the schooling of girls and children from disadvantaged groups (particularly the Bellas [22] and mixed families [23]) and to keep children at school. Currently the possibilities of reinsertion are not sufficient for children (10-11 years old) who have never been to school, for example, via literacy programmes and professional training. This age group requires specific attention as they can become the target of forced recruitment.

According to a variety of interlocutors, food assistance is crucial to attract and retain people who for the most part have never been to school and do not see the point despite the awareness-raising sessions.

The involvement of the national authorities is sometimes exemplary, as in Burkina Faso where the Ministry for Education (MENA) [24] appointed 22 tenured teachers who are responsible for teacher training and pedagogical follow-up. These efforts are all the more commendable in that there is a shortage of teachers (407) for the Sahel region. Finally, advocacy by HCR has proven to be fruitful, with the construction of a large school in Goudebo which will be used by host villages in the future, and support provided to state schools in the region [25].


  • Awareness-raising and behaviour change

Certain social barriers are said to limit access to and the impact of the community services supplied (health and education in particular).

Though resistance remains strong, humanitarian operators have nevertheless observed a certain breakthrough since 2013 as sensitive subjects can be discussed in women’s groups and young people’s groups (such as discrimination, early marriage and its consequences, and a few cases of gender-based sexual violence, such as rape and sexual exploitation). The most sensitive subjects are dealt with in small restricted groups (FGM [26], sharing of aid by low castes, exploitation and forced recruitment of children, etc.) or during the provision of services (such as in health centres).

These themes are also relevant for host populations as their ways of living and customs are very similar to those of the majority of Malian refugees (Tuaregs).

Experience shows that many subjects can be treated due to regular presence and culturally appropriate communication. To improve the detection and follow up of cases, it is of primary importance to establish communication between various focal points, whether they are linked to a partner organisation (for example, a community relay or worker), the HCR (pre-interview during the recording) or at the health post. As such, the cultural proximity of the staff working with the community is a priceless asset.

Certain culturally-adapted messages can lead to isolated cases of behaviour change which then spread within the community. Humanitarian operators recently pointed out the following situations: fathers deciding to send their girls to school rather than marrying them; preference expressed by members of inferior castes for local reintegration in order to escape the hierarchical system. A Tuareg leader [27] in Burkina Faso. also revealed that many returned parents regretted not having sent their children to school at the camp because when they returned to Mali they understood that it would have helped them find work.

[21] These indicators were supposed to be clarified thanks to the registration operation being carried out at the time of the field visit. These rates may have been pushed down due to over-registration.

[22] Current Tuareg society is always based on a rigid socio-political heirarchy which includes several categories: nobles (inzajeghen), tributaires (imghad), religious (ineslemen), serfs or former serfs (iklan or Bella depending on the Songhay terminology).

[23] The term of a mixed family refers to cases where children have been given to another family, generally from a superior caste, to work for them.

[24] MENA : Ministère de l’Education Nationale.

[25] 48 classrooms have been built for refugees, whether in the camp of Goudebo or « outside camps ». In addition, around ten classrooms have been built to support public schools in the region.

[26] FGM: Female Genital Mutilation. These are still not broached easily. In Mbera camp in Mauritania, in some limited circles, discussion apparently can take place.

[27] Goudebou camp