Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Catholic Relief Services helps refugees in Mali conflict

Catholic Relief Services is working to assist tens of thousands of refugees in Mali as the clash between government and rebel forces continues.
“Peace is their main need,” Sean Gallagher, Catholic Relief Services' Country Representative in Mali, said of the refugees.

Refugees with host families in rural areas still have access to food from “a relatively good harvest.”

Those in urban areas, however, will need money to purchase food and other necessities to feed those new to the cities.

“As they settle into host families, most will need food and protection. As families accommodate the newly arrived, over time, they will seek to put their children in school and find additional space,” he told CNA Jan. 24.

The fighting in Mali began in April 2012 after a military coup provided Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels the opportunity to seize northern Mali.

An estimated 228,000 people have been internally displaced in Mali, while another 140,000 refugees have registered in neighboring countries, a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says. There are about 15.4 million people in the predominantly Muslim country.

French military forces intervened on Jan. 11 to counter rebel attempts to move into southern Mali. The intervention has helped split the rebels, with some groups now saying they want to negotiate for an end to the fighting or ally against their former cobelligerents, USA Today reports.

Gallagher reported that French-led foreign troops continue to move into northern Mopti, which is in the center of the country. They have taken the Mopti town of Douentza and their planes have bombed the rebel-held historic city of Timbuktu.

Helen Blakesley, the CRS Regional Information Officer for West and Central Africa, said the agency has been helping families who fled the north since the crisis began last year. The agency’s aid has reached over 7,000 households with around 50,000 people.

“For those who came to the Mopti region in the middle of the country, we’ve distributed food, cash, and toiletries, built latrines and kitchen sites at a camp for displaced people,” she said. “For those who came to the Mopti region in the middle of the country, we’ve distributed food, cash, and toiletries, built latrines and kitchen sites at a camp for displaced people.”

The agency is helping about 4,000 refugees in the national capital Bamako with monthly cash distributions, targeted according to criteria like large family size, single-parent status, or special needs like disabilities, illness or old age.

Each family receives the equivalent of $16 per person, per month, a figure calculated based on daily food intake.

“That doesn't sound like much, but it's a lifeline. That helps cover basic needs like food, health costs, school fees or rent, if they’re not staying with a host family,” Blakesley said.

Gallagher said the Catholic agency is still helping the “first wave” of refugees from when fighting began. It is assessing the situation of displaced persons in Bamako and in several cities and towns in the south-central region of Segou.

Catholic Relief Services has been working in Mali since 1999. Other projects are still continuing despite the military conflict.

In the far-west commune of Sahel the agency is addressing a food crisis through agriculture, nutrition, education, and community infrastructure like water holes. 

The agency is supplying hot, nutritious meals to schoolchildren each day in around 300 schools in two vulnerable regions.

The Catholic Relief Services website is www.crs.org.

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