NOUAKCHOTT- Tens of thousands of Malians living in Mauritania’s M’bera refugee camp will not be returning home in the near future and will rely on humanitarian assistance for many months to come, a new UN assessment mission concluded.
A joint assessment in the camp by the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) this month also identified the urgent need to go beyond immediate life-saving assistance in an effort to help refugees become more self- reliant.
Since January 2012, conflict in Mali has driven more than 74,000 refugees to flee to M’bera in south-eastern Mauritania. In the assessment interviews, the refugees expressed their fears about the ongoing presence of armed groups in northern Mali and described incidents of livestock theft, racketeering and arbitrary detention.
“These people cannot yet return home, and so they will continue to depend on humanitarian assistance in the near future” said UNCHR Representative Nada Merheb.
“We have made great progress in improving the quality of the assistance in recent months. Food distributions are now more efficient and malnutrition rates in the camp have decreased,” said WFP Representative Christine Van Nieuwenhuyse. “But, as these people remain stranded here, we need solid donor support to improve the quality of life in the camp and help families be more self-reliant.”
M’bera is located in Hodh el Chargi, one of Mauritania’s poorest regions, where 14 percent of local residents are food insecure. There are few employment or trade opportunities, so displaced people struggle to be self-sufficient.
“The lack of economic opportunities in the area is reinforcing the refugees’ dependency on external assistance and we must find ways to address this,” said Mrs. Merheb.
The assessment mission also found that the presence of refugees has been putting great pressure on the environment, where resources are already scarce. Access to water in the camp is a challenge, while the need for firewood and grazing space risks compromising the area around the camp.
The deterioration of the environment could also affect the living conditions of the host communities, already facing limited livelihood options.
WFP and UNHCR urge donors to continue supporting the efforts of the two agencies to improve the conditions of Malian refugees in Mauritania.
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