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Malian civilians continue to bear the brunt of an Islamist takeover of the north and growing political instability in the south, and yet the United Nations is failing to meet their needs. According to Refugees International's latest report, Mali: Outside the Spotlight, Displaced People in Urgent Need of Assistance, the majority of Malian IDPs are living in areas accessible to aid agencies, but many have received no help.
Calls for an Africa-led military intervention in Mali are growing, and the UN Security Council seems poised to approve such a force in the coming weeks. However, the focus on the north has diverted attention from the more than 120,000 Malians in the south who need immediate assistance, and the ineffectual response of UN agencies has left them increasingly desperate.
“It is true that the situation in northern Mali is of the utmost concern. However, more than 60 percent of Malian IDPs are now in the south, and many have been waiting more than six months for aid,” said RI Director of Programs Andrea Lari, who traveled to the country last month. “We met many families in Bamako who were running out of food and water, or were asked to leave by relatives who could no longer support them. Some even said they would have to return to the north if help did not arrive soon. There is no excuse for this sort of failure, and UN leadership in Geneva and New York must intervene immediately to set things right.”
Aside from falling short on immediate humanitarian needs, RI’s team also found that UN officials in Mali are unprepared for the arrival of more displaced families or the further deterioration of security. Experts suggest that under the most likely scenarios, an additional 300,000 to 500,000 Malians could be displaced in the coming months. Yet RI found that the UN's contingency planning has been slow and woefully insufficient.
“This crisis is not going to end any time soon,” said Alice Thomas, RI Climate Displacement Program Manager, “and if there is a military intervention it will get worse both in the north and the south. UN officials in Mali are not remotely prepared for this. They need to immediately address their current shortcomings, and seek out additional funding, staff, and support before it's too late.”