By Alex Duval Smith
Families who have fled the violence in the North of Mali and settled in Ségou have received kits of household necessities that are helping them make do.
SÉGOU, Mali, 19 April 2013 – A needle, some dyed straw and a razor blade are all Aicha Dicko needs for some economic relief for herself, her two daughters and six grandchildren.
About once a week, the family has enough money to throw a chicken in the pot – when Ms. Dicko sells one of her baskets marked ‘nous voulons la paix au Mali’ (we want peace in Mali).
The Dicko family fled conflict in northern Mali and have settled in the central Malian town of Ségou. Their pot – and a number of everyday items, including soap and mosquito nets – has been provided by UNICEF and distributed by Care International.
Refuge within the Malian borders
In January 2012, rebellion erupted in northern Mali led by a Tuareg separatist movement, which was later allied with several armed Islamist groups. The Government of Mali subsequently requested immediate military assistance from France, which began rapidly.
The Dicko family fled by truck, empty-handed, the day after rebels hammered down their door with rifle butts. They arrived in Ségou just over a year ago.
They are now are among an estimated 292,648 Malians who have fled the fighting in the North but have stayed within the country’s borders rather than seeking safety in refugee camps in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania or the Niger.
According to the governor, little Ségou’s houses, riverbanks and yards have gained 36,000 people in the past year.
Household necessities in Ségou
So far, 1,520 UNICEF water, sanitation and hygiene kits have been distributed to vulnerable families in Ségou.
Ms. Dicko’s daughter Bintou says the kit has been invaluable for getting the nine members of the family back on their feet. “The kit contained three types of objects,” she explains. “There were pots, a ladle and three spoons. There was a tarpaulin, two mosquito nets and blankets, and there were things for hygiene like soap and purification tablets, which are useful for cleaning the water we draw from Mossa’s borehole.”
In another area of town, Pélénkanna, a squeaky metal door opens in to a compound filled with brightly-clad women and their children. It’s a meeting of Annya (linked by the heart), a mutual support group of displaced women from the North. “We initially set ourself up as a social network to make friends,” says founder Ramata Touré, who used to sell secondhand clothing in Gao before she fled to Ségou with 15 children and grandchildren in March 2012.
“We love the UNICEF kits because...they are made up of stuff you really need and on which you would have to spend money before even being able to buy food. When you arrive in a strange town with nothing, the last thing you want is to be burdened by a sick child, with diarrhoea or malaria.”
Ms. Touré has received a kit, but she says there is a need for more of them. Fatimata Maiga, who has not received one, says she has borrowed some kit items from a friend. “But we still need our own sleeping mats, and they are in the kit,” she says. “I have three children. At the moment, we are all squeezed on to one mat.”
Far from home
France has said it is getting ready to halve its troop presence to 2,000 in July and hand over operations to a retrained Malian army and to United Nations peacekeepers.
The prospect worries the women.
They all confirm that, based on the daily phone calls they receive from husbands and brothers who have stayed at home, the North is far from safe, and it is too early to consider going home.
“The rebels rape women,” says Bintou Dicko. “They beat children. People say peace is coming, but we cannot go back because there are now also revenge killings. We want to go back to our land and our farming.”