United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Mali, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bc7a.html [accessed 26 January 2015]
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More than 22,000 Malians were refugees at the end of 1997, including some 10,000 in Algeria and about 6,000 in Niger. An estimated 34,000 refugees repatriated to Mali during the year, UNHCR reported. Mali hosted some 15,000 refugees from Mauritania and about 2,000 refugees from other countries at year's end. Pre-1997 Events Members of Mali's ethnic Tuareg community in northern Mali launched an insurgency in 1991, demanding autonomy from the Malian government. Malian troops targeted Tuaregs in reprisal attacks, leading many Tuaregs to flee the country. Some ethnic Moors also fled. A "national pact" signed by Tuareg rebel leaders and the Mali government in 1992 temporarily curtailed the violence. Some rebel leaders opposed the pact and continued the war, however. Renewed violence prompted an estimated 50,000 or more refugees to flee the country in 1994. Tuareg factions ended hostilities among themselves in 1995, setting the stage for peace and repatriation. An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 Malians repatriated in 1996. The true number of Malian refugees in neighboring countries was unknown, however, due in part to the largely nomadic lifestyle of the Tuaregs. Some asylum countries regarded the Tuaregs as economic migrants rather than as refugees, and restricted UNHCR's direct assistance to them. Tuareg political groups regularly asserted that the size of the Tuareg refugee population was vastly greater than the estimates cited by UNHCR and other agencies. Repatriation of Malian Refugees UNHCR assisted about 34,000 refugees to repatriate to Mali in 1997, including about 17,000 from Burkina Faso, 14,000 from Mauritania, 2,000 from Algeria, and nearly 1,000 from Niger. Others may have repatriated spontaneously, without assistance. The repatriations in 1997 brought to more than 120,000 the number of Malians who have returned since mid-1995, according to UNHCR. Repatriation movements from Mauritania and Burkina Faso in 1997 effectively completed UNHCR's return programs in those countries; virtually no refugees from Mali remained in Mauritania and only several hundred remained in Burkina Faso at year's end. A May 1997 UNHCR appeal for $17 million to fund its repatriation programs in Mali and Niger netted less then $10 million by year's end, the agency reported. UNHCR supplemented the money received from donors with funds from its voluntary repatriation account. "The refugees upon return home were faced with the harshness of a dry, hot, and vast desert, insufficient drinking water, [and] lack of basic health facilities, medical drugs, and trained health staff," UNHCR noted. UNHCR's program in Mali focused on the rehabilitation of water, health, and sanitation facilities in returnee areas. UNHCR and 12 implementing partners also conducted education and income-generating projects and distributed household materials, including tents, cooking sets, and mosquito nets, to returnees and local populations living at returnee sites. Returnees also received a three-month food ration. Insecurity and banditry in some areas have affected UNHCR's program in Mali. During 1996-97, 17 vehicles belonging to UNHCR or implementing partners were hijacked, the agency reported; only 2 were recovered. The hijackers killed one vehicle guard and wounded a driver. In 1997, an international UNHCR staff member was kidnapped, but later released unharmed. The security incidents have prompted UNHCR to use armed escorts on its field missions to returnee areas, which has driven up the cost of its operations in the country. Returnees, however, have not been threatened or harmed, UNHCR said. "In general the returnee population has been well received by authorities and local populations living at the sites of return," UNHCR reported. Refugees from Mauritania An estimated 15,000 Mauritanian refugees remained in southwestern Mali's Kayes region, near the Mauritanian border. Most were ethnic Peulhs, traditional herders, and either had been expelled from Mauritania in 1989-90 or had been outside the country at that time and were barred from returning. The Mauritanian government generally did not consider them to be Mauritanian citizens. Neither Mauritania nor Mali considered those expelled to be refugees. The refugees received limited education and health assistance from UNHCR, plus supplementary food items. Refugees were also eligible for food-for-work programs. Four primary schools and two health clinics serviced the population. In part because neither Mali nor Mauritania considered the expellees to be refugees, the two governments have not signed a formal tripartite repatriation agreement with UNHCR. UNHCR began to facilitate repatriation of Mauritanian refugees in Mali in July 1997. During the second half of the year, more than 5,600 refugees registered to repatriate. "Being a facilitated repatriation, there is no guarantee that all these candidates have returned to Mauritania," UNHCR noted.