Conflict in the north of Mali is still causing massive movements of people across the Sahel region and the unacceptable conditions in the camps where they are living are leading to disease and suffering.
According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, approximately 150,000 refugees are living in camps in Burkina Faso (Ferrerio, Dibissi, Ngatourou-niénié and Gandafabou camps), Mauritania (Mbera camp) and Niger (Abala, Mangaize and Ayorou camps).
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working in these eight camps since March 2012, providing basic healthcare and maternal care, and treating malnutrition. MSF is also giving basic care and measles vaccinations to children aged between six months and 15 years. Nearly 12,000 consultations and 5,000 vaccinations have been carried out since the beginning of the year.
"At the border crossing at Fassala, Mauritania, people are arriving thirsty and showing signs of fatigue," says Karl Nawezi, MSF project manager in Mauritania. Nearly 67,000 refugees - mainly women and children - have arrived in the border town of Fassala, since January 2012.
Many have travelled by truck or with donkeys. After being registered by the authorities, the refugees wait in a transit camp before being transferred to Mbera, a small, isolated village in the Mauritanian desert, just 30 km from the Mali border.
Poor conditions in the camps
"In Mauritania, as is the case elsewhere, people are suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory infections and skin infections because of the poor conditions in the camps," says Nawezi. In Mbera, the refugees are totally dependent on humanitarian aid. To date, the number of tents that have been distributed has been insufficient. Families have been assembled under large tents called 'meeting points', which leave them exposed to the elements. Fed up with waiting, some have taken it upon themselves to construct makeshift shelters out of straw mats and pieces of fabric in order to protect themselves from sand and dust storms.Meanwhile, IRIN reports that the Malian rebels, fleeing out of Mali, may cause instability in just those nations now harboring the refugees.