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International Partnerships

Investing in brighter futures for displaced people in the Sahel

In the Central Sahel, conflict has spread from Northern to Central Mali and far into Burkina Faso and Western Niger. Around 436,000 Malians have been forced to flee, close to 90,000 into the neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger as well as over 346,000 within Mali. The spreading insecurity has also affected zones in which Malian refugees live in countries of asylum and caused massive internal displacement in Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thanks to the support of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), UNHCR provided support to Malian refugees, internally displaced and returnees to create livelihood opportunities and strengthen the resilience of displaced families and their host communities. In addition, investments in water, school and health infrastructure as well as other projects benefitting the displaced populations and host communities improved living conditions and peaceful coexistence.

Mali - Copyright: UNHCR

In Mali, Ramatou, a grandmother from Gao, is not only the head of her household, but also of a workshop where 30 displaced women hand craft the traditional headdresses worn by women as part of a Malian cultural heritage.

This project continues to support women and their families also after they’re able to return to their place of origin. Ramatou maintains her business partnership with some of the women, by sending them accessories to sell during weddings and social gatherings, and they split the revenue.

And for those who acquired the skills while displaced in Gao, Ramatou sends them raw materials in their areas of return, so that they continue their trade and create accessories to sell. The economic impact of her workshop continues to spread through the women she has trained, benefitting families and communities throughout the region.

“Displaced or not, we, women of this group, have similar concerns and share the same solidarity and family unity values,” said Ramatou. “This project provides us with the necessary income to support our families and those of displaced women in particular, whose husbands struggle to find a job while in displacement.”

In Burkina Faso, Mahamadou Hama, had lived in Goudoubo refugee camp since 2012 after fleeing Mali with his family. In March 2020, they were forced to flee again when the camp was attacked. “Armed men came into the camp one night, and after they had tortured a family, they summoned us to leave the area within a five-day deadline”, said Mahamadou. “We feared for our lives. So, we packed up and left the camp.”

After the attacks authorities have strengthened the security and EU and UNHCR helped the refugees to return to the camp. Mahamadou and his family are back to start a new life, but unfortunately this also means finding new ways to support themselves. “When we came back to Goudoubo, we had no livelihood. So, I was worried about how we would survive,” Mahamadou explained.

As part of an EUTF project, vulnerable refugee families and families from the host community received animals to help restore their livestock and improve their livelihoods. “My family received 10 goats. We are really happy and grateful, because we can breed these animals and have milk for the children,” Mahamadou said with a large smile. “And whenever necessary, we can sell out one or two goats to buy food for the family.”

Burkina Faso - Copyright: UNHCR

In Niger, the village of Abala hosts 16,280 Malian refugees and internally displaced persons who were forced to flee their homes. This influx put a strain on local schools to find classroom places for arriving children.

“We were facing a big challenge. Our school capacity to receive additional children was low. We did not have enough classes,” said Abdoulaye Mahamadou, the primary school director of Abala. “We had to use straw huts as school classes, exposing children to the cold wind and higher temperatures.”

Thanks to support from EUTF, UNHCR was able to build five additional classrooms to increase the capacity of the primary school. The new classrooms and the construction of canteens, have restored good teaching and learning conditions, increasing the attendance rates for refugees, and local children, which will improve literacy rates across the community.

Niger - Copyright: UNHCR/ Mahamadou Soba
UNHCR/ Mahamadou Soba

Another EUTF-financed project is investing in the futures and self-reliance of refugees in the Mbera camp, in Mauritania, by creating livelihoods opportunities. Through training and grants, refugee entrepreneurs are able to support their families and become independent from humanitarian assistance.

With support from EUTF, Mohamed Ali was able to open his own business in Mbera camp where he is now selling his sartorial creations thanks to the cash assistance and training provided by the project.

“No one in my family is a tailor, I learnt how to sew in Mali, then I fled to Mbera camp and I worked for other people,” said Ali. “Now I have my own business.”

The European Union, together with UNHCR, is changing the lives of forcibly displaced people in the central Sahel.

Original article published by UNHCR.

Mauritania - Copyright: UNHCR