Increasing number of families fleeing south
For the past year, Islamic rebel groups in the north of the country have been at war with the government. Following the rebel takeover of the town of Konna in central Mali on 11 January, France intervened with air strikes to try to halt further advances. French forces continue to advance towards the north of the country, and have reached the former Islamist stronghold of Diabaly. The UK Government has announced it will also deploy approximately 330 military personnel to Mali and West Africa to support the French forces.
Thousands of families in northern and central Mali have fled their homes and travelled further south in the conflict. The UN Humanitarian Agency says that nearly 150,000 people have left the country so far, while another 230,000 are internally displaced. The agency fears that the fighting could force a total of 700,000 people from their homes. There is concern for injured people, who may not seek treatment at hospitals for fear of them being bombed.
SOS Children in Mali
SOS Children have been working in Mali since 1987, when we opened our first SOS Children’s Village in Sanankoroba, 30 kilometres south of Bamako, the capital of Mali. We currently have three SOS Children’s Villages in the country, as well as SOS Schools, SOS Medical Centres and SOS Social Centres which run Family Strengthening Programmes supporting local families to stay together.
In the current crisis, our projects in Socoura, close to Mopti, in central Mali, have been most affected. In difficulties during April last year, the 14 families who live at the SOS Children’s Village here were evacuated to the two SOS Children's Villages located further south, in Kita and Sanankoroba. The SOS School and Nursery in Socoura had remained open to offer an uninterrupted education for local children. However, during intensified fighting on 10 January 2012, these children and their families also fled their homes. In such an unstable situation, SOS teachers and staff were given the option to travel south for their own safety. Many chose to stay to protect SOS Children’s facilities, and were thankfully unharmed.
With the intervention of French troops in recent days, the situation in Mopti and the local area has calmed down. The school has now reopened, although many children remain absent. Ibrahima Bane, the Director of SOS Children in Mali, paid a visit to SOS staff in Socoura, to reassure them that they will get any possible support they need. Ibrahima says: “We follow up the situation to be prepared for any contingency. We are hoping for peace. We have been having difficulties with e-mail connections over the past few days but we keep close telephone contact with staff in Socoura every day."
Children in Mali have been particularly affected by the ongoing conflict. Mohamed (pictured, right), from SOS Children’s Village Socoura, is currently living in SOS Children’s Village Kita after being evacuated for his safety. He says: "We talk about the children who are going to lose their parents in this war in our country and this makes me sad. There are already so many people displaced in the country, like us, they have left their home and their belongings to become refugees inside Mali. I pray that this stops soon."
Find out more about SOS Children in Mali.