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Once a stopover, Mali town becomes frontline destination for displaced people

The town of Sévaré sits along Mali's de facto border with a region now controlled by Tuareg separatists. At a camp there, displaced people speak cautiously about why they fled.

By Derek Henry FloodContributor / June 21, 2012

The scene inside an IDP camp in Sévaré which had been a hostel for long-distance truck drivers. It now houses Songhai people who fled the rebel advance in northern Mali in late March.

Derek Henry Flood

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Sévaré, Mali

This crossroads town once at Mali’s center has become the country’s de facto northern border since Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels staged an uprising in late March, partitioning off the northern two-thirds of the republic and renaming it Azawad. 

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Traditionally a stopover for long-distance truck and bus traffic bound for Timbuktu and Gao to the north, Sévaré and the nearby tourist destination of Mopti are becoming a frontline destination, particularly for internally displaced peoples (IDPs) from the rebel-controlled regions of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu. Men who made a living by interacting with European adventurers are now queuing up for food staples donated by Western aid agencies. They sit astride a critical new geopolitical fault line where, so far, the international community has failed to take any substantial action.

Some are able to stay with members of their extended family in Mopti Region, while others head south to Bamako in search of more opportunities. Those who can't do either make their homes in canvas tents in a former truck drivers’ hostel. Next door is a municipal complex where local functionaries of this rump administration file paperwork under humming fluorescent lights.

The local authorities said they had no knowledge of the state-of-play in Mopti Region, of which they have lost partial control to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

Both ECOWAS, the West African economic bloc, and the African Union have warned about the global security implications of letting the Azawad issue fester, to no avail. The United Nations Security Council rebuffed the pan-African initiative to get approval for a military intervention, led by Burkina Faso and Niger.

According to a June 15 report from Agence France-Presse, the UN claimed it lacked sufficient details on the crisis and the possible logistics for a military intervention, even as its own High Commissioner for Refugees is in the midst of an appeal to stem the unceasing refugee outflow from the area that more than 300,000 Malians have already fled, with more en route.

Permission was hesitantly granted to this reporter to visit the IDP camp with a minder from the Ministry of Internal Defense and Civil Protection. The Christian Science Monitor was given very limited access to speak to IDPs under the assigned minder’s watchful gaze. The sole figure in any authority was a doctor from Médecins Sans Frontières-Belgium (MSF), who treated patients in a makeshift clinic. When asked about common maladies afflicting those fleeing northern Mali, the doctor nervously said that he was not in a position to speak officially, suggesting contacting MSF’s offices instead.

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