More than 500,000 refugees from northern Mali still cannot return

Mali, nine months after the beginning of the French military intervention (September 11):

Nine months after the beginning of the French military intervention in Mali, about 510,000 refugees are still waiting for the situation to become safe enough for them to return to their homes in the north of the country. On Tuesday, the Society for Threatened Peoples drew attention to the fate of these forgotten war refugees. "It is still uncertain when northern Mali might be safe enough from new attacks by Islamist extremists for the refugees to return home unharmed," reported the STP's Africa-consultant, Ulrich Delius. "The refugees desperately need more humanitarian assistance, for there is not enough support from abroad to keep up many of the support measures."

The human rights organization criticized the disproportion between the costs for the French military intervention and the expenses for providing humanitarian assistance to the war refugees. The operation, which started on January 11, 2013, will cost France more than 400 million Euros by the end of the year. According to estimates by French military representatives, the deployment of a single French soldier causes annual costs of 100,000 Euros. The UN estimated that the humanitarian aid measures for Mail will cost about 359 million Euros. "However, only 34 percent of the amount have so far been covered by the donor countries," criticized Delius.

Currently, there are about 334,000 war refugees from northern Mali living in the south of the country as IDPs. Another 75,000 Tuareg and members of other ethnic groups have escaped to neighboring Mauritania – and another 50,000 to Niger and Burkina Faso each. Around 1,500 Malians escaped to Algeria. "In the shadow of the Syrian crisis, these refugees are being ignored," said Delius. Surveys showed that 80 percent of them are hoping to be able to return to their home towns, but at least 60 percent of the people living in southern Mali as IDPs would not risk returning before next year – at the earliest.

The refugees have little influence on the development in their home country. Only 4,000 refugees were able to vote in the Malian presidential elections in August 2013. The authorities still have serious problems trying to rebuild a functioning administration in the north of the country. Because of the uncertain security situation, even the officials are reluctant to return. France has promised a budget of 750,000 Euros to provide financial incentives in order to persuade them. Also, France was forced to postpone a withdrawal of the troops because it is uncertain if the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA will be able to ensure safety.