Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 August 2017, 18:21 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Mali

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Mali , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 20 August 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Approximately 3,000 Malians remained refugees at the end of 1998, primarily in Niger. About 10,000 Malian refugees repatriated during the year.

Mali hosted some 5,000 refugees from Mauritania at year's end.

Repatriation of Malian Refugees

Conflict during 1991-94 between ethnic Tuareg insurgents and Malian government troops forced tens of thousands of Tuareg and ethnic Moor civilians to flee to neighboring countries.

The true number of Malian refugees was unknown because of the Tuaregs' nomadic lifestyle and their remote locations in the Sahara Desert, where national borders had no practical meaning. Some asylum countries regarded many Tuaregs as economic migrants rather than refugees. Tuareg political groups, meanwhile, regularly asserted that the size of the Tuareg refugee population was vastly greater than the estimates cited by UNHCR and other agencies.

An estimated 120,000 Malians repatriated during 1995-97, some with UNHCR assistance and many on their own. Another 10,000 Malians returned during 1998 from four neighboring countries, including 8,000 with UNHCR assistance. Those who received UNHCR transportation traversed the desert by truck in 120-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures that forced some convoys to travel primarily at night.

The refugees repatriated to desolate areas of northern Mali long neglected by Malian officials. Aid workers warned that the lack of services in returnee regions could create dissatisfaction among returnees that might trigger new violence. "The reintegration process in Mali is fragile," UNHCR stated in early 1998.

UNHCR appealed to international donors for more than $8 million to facilitate repatriation and reintegration, but received about $3 million. Other humanitarian agencies and the Malian government requested some $200 million for long-term development projects. UNHCR funded some 130 water wells in dry returnee areas, construction of schools and health clinics, and small financial loans in returnee communities.

Some newly built schools and clinics remained closed in late 1998, however, lacking teachers, medical personnel, and supplies. Malian authorities vowed to rectify the problem. Some Tuareg leaders complained that several returnee areas remained unassisted.

Many returnees – perhaps as a result of their years living at refugee sites – expressed interest in curtailing their traditional nomadic lifestyle and living a more sedentary existence with access to schools and other amenities. UNHCR conducted programs to foster goodwill between Tuareg returnees and other residents living in returnee areas.

Banditry continued to hamper assistance programs. UNHCR and other aid agencies suffered car hijackings – UNHCR reported the loss of 21 vehicles to banditry in recent years – and some aid workers insisted on police escorts in particularly dangerous areas.

Refugees from Mauritania

Several thousand Mauritanian refugees repatriated from Mali during 1998. At year's end, about 5,000 refugees continued to live in southwestern Mali's Kayes region, near the Mauritanian border. The actual number of refugees was unknown because rigorous registration procedures did not exist.

Most Mauritanian refugees were ethnic Peuhls, traditional herders. They were expelled from Mauritania in 1989-90 or had been outside the country at that time and were barred from returning by Mauritanian officials. The refugees received limited food, education, and health assistance from UNHCR.

The exact number of refugees who repatriated during 1998 was unknown because of loose controls on both sides of the Mali-Mauritanian border. Various sources indicated that 1,000 to 10,000 repatriations occurred.

Refugees who registered to repatriate during 1998 received 60 pounds of cereals, milk powder, and tea per person, plus a blanket, sleeping mat, and the equivalent of $8 for each family. Some families, however, might have accepted the repatriation package without repatriating, according to UNHCR.

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