BAMAKO, MALI (July 19, 2012) Political instability and fears of chaos in Mali have driven more than 300,000 people from their homes since fighting erupted in the north between a Tuareg rebel movement and Malian government forces. There has been panic that rebel groups will use the region as a platform for drugs and arms trading. Adding to the plight of the refugees, Mali is among several countries in the West African part of the Sahel region that is suffering from a lack of rain, which has led to drought conditions and a severe food shortage.
Families are suffering greatly and many, mostly women and children, are at risk. Of the more than 330,000 people that have fled their homes in Mali, a fifth of them are children. A July 2012 press release by UNICEF noted that while the vast majority of malnourished children live in the southern parts of Mali the recent conditions in the north have reduced access to food, water and basic health care. Due to the prolonged drought, about 560,000 young children in Mali are at risk of acute malnutrition this year and between 175,000 and 220,000 of those will require life-saving treatment.
In addition to facing severe malnutrition, this same UNICEF release noted that violence against children in Bamako, Mali is rising. There is evidence that children are being killed and injured by explosive devices as well as recruited into armed groups and trained as guerrilla fighters. UNICEF noted that at least 175 boys ages 12-18 have so far been recruited into these armed groups. UNICEF also noted that eight girls have been raped or sexually abused in the region.
Access to education has also been affected, the press release said. The vast majority of schools have been closed in the region and close to 300,000 are without basic education. Children out of school are at a higher risk of recruitment, violence and exploitation.
“These numbers are reason for alarm especially because they represent only a partial picture of the child protection context in the north – an area where access for humanitarian workers is limited,” said Theophane Nikyema, UNICEF’s Representative in Mali, in the release. “Children in the North are witnessing or becoming victims of violence and they must be protected.”
Salesian Missions is among several organizations responding to the crisis in Mali. The Salesians have opened up one of their centers in order to take in refugee families. In addition, Salesian missionaries in Mali are organizing food distribution to remote areas where many victims are on the brink of starvation.
The Salesians have a long history of helping refugee and displaced populations. Salesian-run programs offer assistance in refugee camps throughout the world, often in the form of technical vocational training and job placement services, which empower refugees and internally displaced persons with marketable skills. Such training and assistance is provided in safe and supportive environments, enabling youth and their families to slowly rebuild their lives.
“As the crisis in Mali continues to unfold, youth remain at risk in Mali and in many other unstable regions around the world,” said Fr. Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions – the U.S. fundraising arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “We need your support to help ensure that the Salesians are able and prepared to accept and care for refugees victimized by war and violence and to assist us in caring for children and families in need.”
Donations are urgently needed to help feed and shelter displaced youth and their families around the globe. To make a donation please visit SalesianMissions.org.
Salesian Missions: Crisis in Mali: Salesian Center Takes in Refugees