UN warns of refugee crisis in Mali

A file photo shows a UN refugee camp in Mauritania where thousands of displaced Malians have been stationed.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that the Western-led war in Mali could leave hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

“We believe that in the near future there could be up to 300,000 people additionally displaced inside Mali, and over 400,000 additionally displaced in the neighboring countries,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said on Friday.

The figures do not include the existing 229,000 people already displaced inside the country and 147,000 refugees who have fled to neighboring nations, she told reporters in Geneva.

The spokeswoman also noted that many have been unable to leave the violence-hit country due to the high costs.

The wave of displacements came after France aircraft started airstrikes in the country on January 11, with 2,744 Malians fleeing for Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.

France and several European and African countries have sent troops to the West African state to help the Malian government stop the advance of rebels who have been occupying the country’s north Mali since April.

The Malian Army has announced progress in blocking the rebels’ advance beyond their stronghold in the north, but the UNHCR remained skeptical the conflict would come to an end any time soon.

“Nobody thinks this is going to be over tomorrow,” she said, pointing to pre-existing differences and reports of growing ethnic tensions in the country.