Zeinabou, a mother of eight, fled with her family from conflict in her native Mali in January. There were rumours that a plane would come and bomb her town. She did not wait to see whether they were true; the family rented a car and fled to south eastern Mauritania. But life in the Mbera refugee camp is hard, she is pregnant and would like to return home, so her child can be born there.
In Léré, where she came from, Zeinabou ran a small business and a hairdressing salon. But when they fled, she and her children had just a few possessions. “We arrived at the border town of Fassala where we stayed for six days without any form of assistance until we were transferred to the camp of M’bera thanks to a convoy organized by UNHCR.
“I was lucky in that I already knew people in the camp at Mbera, who could help me out when I arrived. Their support was invaluable in the first weeks in precarious conditions before I received my tent," she said. WFP is providing food assistance for around 72,000 Malians at the M’bera camp. As well as the monthly rations, special nutritious foods are being provided for those who need it most, pregnant and nursing mothers and young children.
“Conditions in the camp are difficult. We don’t have access to many food products like meat and milk, the water points are far away and it is often expensive to carry the water to the tent. Often we have to pay a donkey cart because each water tank is 20 litres and too heavy to carry on your head, but the cart charges you 10 ouguiyas per tank.
A joint assessment in the camp in May by the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) found that many residents were fearful of returning home. It identified the urgent need to go beyond immediate life-saving assistance in an effort to help refugees become more self- reliant.
In a small way, Zeinabou is trying to do just that. To complement the food ration provided by WFP with other with missing food products, she makes donuts and sauce condiments and sells them next to her tent.
M’bera is located in Hodh el Chargi, one of Mauritania’s poorest regions, where 14 percent of local residents are food insecure. In addition to providing support to the refugees, WFP is providing assistance to host communities in villages surrounding M’bera. There are few employment or trade opportunities, so displaced people struggle to be self-sufficient.
I am ready to go back as I am weary of the situation in the camp. In Léré I have a house and a field and I don’t know what has happened to them. My field will die if I don’t go back. I want to go back to give birth there, settle and rebuild my life.”