The military campaign to retake control of northern Mali from Islamist rebels has raised hopes among IDPs that they could soon be going home - but what will they be going home to?
Mali’s political, security and humanitarian situations have changed significantly during the past month, with French, Malian and West African troops retaking control of much of the north of the country from armed Islamist groups, and driving the rebels out of their strongholds and into the northern mountains.
For many of the nearly 230,000 people internally displaced in Mali in 2012, these advances raise the possibility of being able to go home, a prospect for which some have been waiting for more than a year. According to a February 2013 survey on IDPs’ future intentions carried out by the International Organisation for Migration in Bamako and Koulikoro, 93 per cent of internally displaced people (IDPs) plan to return to the north rather than integrate locally in their area of displacement or settle elsewhere in the country.
In terms of timing, some households base their plans to return on the agricultural cycle, with the planting season falling in early summer and harvest in the autumn. Others would prefer to wait until the end of the school year in June in order to minimise any further disruption to their children’s studies. Two-thirds of households, however, are simply waiting for reassurances that their home areas are safe enough to return to in a sustainable way. Nearly 90 per cent of those interviewed believe that security conditions in the north will improve soon, which may mean significant numbers of people will make the journey home in the coming months. This forecast begs the question: when will it be truly safe enough for people to go back to the north in peace, and what kinds of challenges should they expect to find upon arriving?