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With conflict escalating in Mali, the aid effort to help some 145,000 refugees living in camps across remote, poor areas of the Sahel could become overwhelmed unless there is a step-change in the way aid operations are carried out. Since January 2012, nearly 375,000 Malians have fled the conflict in the north of their country. Some 145,000, the majority of them women and children, have crossed into Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. More refugees are set to follow as fighting intensifies in Mali. Host governments and humanitarian agencies have provided life-saving aid to refugees in difficult circumstances, but they are struggling to meet all the refugees’ basic needs, in particular in education, nutrition and protection. In Niger’s camps, up to 21 per cent of children are malnourished, well above the 15 per cent ’emergency threshold’ set by the UN. For many refugees – including those interviewed by Oxfam – this was the latest of several flights from crisis over two decades and they say they will not return until a lasting peace in Mali is secured.

Oxfam’s briefing paper analyses the shortfalls in the humanitarian response to refugees, and outlines what is needed to better meet the needs of refugees and the communities among which they are living. It also calls on all military forces and armed groups in Mali to take all possible steps to prevent harm to an already distressed civilian population. Finally, the report emphasises that Mali’s crisis can only be addressed through a comprehensive approach that moves beyond a focus on counter-terrorism and seeks to address the deep-seated drivers of the conflict.

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