‘Children were hunted by armed men’: Malians seek safety in Mauritania

Leaving the village had become dangerous. Children sent on chores around Timbuktu, to collect firewood or lead animals to pasture, “were being hunted down by armed men”.

“When they attack a child who goes to look for wood … we women were afraid the men will come [into town] to attack us,” says a woman from M’bera refugee camp, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals. Three months ago, she joined a wave of people leaving Mali after a rise in violence in the country’s long-running war against jihadist groups aligned with al-Qaida and Islamic State.

The woman isn’t sure which armed group turned up in her village, but the men who appeared at the market were threatening. Afraid of both staying and leaving, the woman and her family took the first car they could out of the country.

At least 8,000 people and 800,000 head of livestock have arrived in M’bera camp, in the south-east of Mauritania, since December. About 7,000 new arrivals were registered in March and April alone – three times more than during the same period last year. More Malians live in villages outside the camp.The camp has been taking in refugees since fighting broke out between the government and armed groups in 2012. It was home to more than 75,000 people in 2013. While that number declined to a low of 41,000 in 2016, the population has steadily been increasing since 2018 and now stands at more than 78,000.

Extract taken from the article in The Guardian. Further reporting for Al Jazeera. 

Words by Nick Roll and photos by Guy Peterson.

full Gallery shot for AFP