A refugee from Mali now in Niger. Most of the refugees are living in the open air, in makeshift shelters made of blankets stretched over sticks. Photo by Jean-Philippe Debus/CRS

Fears are growing over the humanitarian situation in northern Mali. Some 268,000 people have now fled northern areas seized last month by Tuareg rebels and Islamists.

“The humanitarian situation in northern Mali is worsening day by day,” said Fr. Edmond Dembele, Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Mali. “Food and medicine are increasingly rare, because grocery stores, hospitals and health centres were ransacked by the rebels.”

Rebels have declared an independent state across a huge swathe land, roughly the same size as France.

“We try to establish humanitarian corridors, but in the absence of an agreement with the rebel movements, for the moment nothing has been done,” said Fr. Dembele. “The population in the north of Mali continue to flee to neighbouring countries or in the south of the country.”

Mali is among the countries of the Sahel belt in West Africa experiencing a food crisis. Caritas is responding to the needs of the people in the country where they can get access, as well as to the refugees who have fled the fighting to neighbouring countries like Niger.

“The Catholic Church has offered its facility to accommodate the refugees who arrive in Bamako and collaborates with the Protestant community to help 250 Protestant Christian refugees who have arrived in the capital,” said Fr. Dembele.

“In particular, the Archbishop of Bamako, Mgr. Jean Zerbo, through Caritas has offered rice and other basic necessities. In other areas the refugees are still more numerous. But it is hard help all of them because there is no coordination of efforts at the state level,” he said.

A transitional government is in place in Bamako flowing a coup by army figures last month.

The Bishops of Mali said in a statement this week, “We urge the political class and civil society to put the interests of the country above all. This is simply to save Mali and not the interests of a party or group.”

Sources: Fides, OCHA