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June 04, 2008

600 Malian refugees are setting up camp around Djibo

Mentao is a Tuareg settlement about 5k from Djibo on the Ouagadougou road. Mark's friend Mohammed lives there with his large family and many camels. I have blogged about camel-riding there on a couple occasions (here and here!).

Hospitality is very important in Tuareg culture, which is part of the reason why we always have such a good time at Mohammed's place. But over the last couple weeks, Mohammed's hospitality has been tested to the limit - he is currently playing host to over 20 large families of Tuareg refugees from the Timbuktu area of Mali. They descended on Mohammed because he too originates from that area, and they knew he was here.

According to this report over at allafrica.com, the number of refugees in the Djibo area totals over 600, with a further 300 down in the capital Ouagadougou.

Yesterday Mark Gibson (SIM) and I visited the refugees and listened to their stories. I asked them whether I could take their photos and publicize their situation, and they agreed. I have put the photos and stories of a few of the refugees into a public album which you can access via this link: Tuareg refugees in Djibo June 2008.

It's a strange feeling to be in the middle of writing a novel set in Timbuktu and to suddenly have Timbuktu descend on your doorstep. In spite of Timbuktu's romantic image, the current reality of that region is anything but romantic. Violence between Malian soldiers and Tuareg rebels has been mounting in recent months. The refugees in Mentao claim that Malian soldiers are now launching indiscriminate attacks on Tuareg settlements.

We are thinking and praying about how best to respond to this situation. Joint teams from the Burkina Faso government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) assessed the situation in Mentao last week, but no aid has yet arrived, except for the four sacks of grain which Mark has already taken out there. And as Mohammed commented drily, 'The refugees can't eat clipboards.'

We would like to take a few more sacks of grain over to Mentao just to relieve the pressure on Mohammed in the short-term. If you would like to give to this, email me: steve (at) voiceinthedesert (dot) org (dot) uk.

Once NGO aid actually starts arriving (which could be many weeks), we'll stop delivering food ourselves.

Posted by sahelsteve at June 4, 2008 06:02 PM