Mali: How ‘host’ communities help internally displaced people

A large family who have been "displaced" in Mali and are staying in Ségou

In NGO jargon, she is part of a ‘host community’. Like others in her situation, despite going through a difficult time herself, she has welcomed and supported others who are even less fortunate.

56-year-old Fatimata, a widow from Mali, is one of them. Ségou, the region where she lives, has seen the arrival of more than 2,000 people in three weeks in January alone. People who feared for their lives, and fled the north of the country and its recent fighting.

Nearly 12,000 people have fled their homes within the country since 11 January, and approximately an further 18,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

Scenes of violence

“We can not abandon them,” says Fatimata over the phone. “They are our brothers and sisters.” Her voice falters every few minutes. Not because of the connection. What she is recounting is obviously distressing for her.

She hasn’t had an easy life, she says; she is a widow, sharing her modest pension and house with some of her children, and eight of her grandchildren.

Then one day last month her sister and two children arrived needing somewhere to stay. Then her brother with his wife and two children, and a cousin with more children. They all fled Gao – the largest city in Mali seized by armed groups – amidst scenes of violence and dread.

They all share Fatimata's house

Now they all share Fatimata’s house and its surrounds. And everything she has. Little as that is.

When asked to describe her day, she points out that most of it is focused on scraping things together, on ensuring there is some food, especially for the children. “Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t,” she says. “We live from one day to another. Only God knows how we manage.”

How do they manage? They borrow money; they buy food, cook it, and sell it in the street. “We try to manage with the little we have. It is not easy for anyone. For my brother especially. He is not comfortable being here with his whole family, and having to rely on his younger sister. He doesn’t like the fact that he can’t work.”

Until there is peace in Gao

But sadly until there is full peace in their hometown, or help arrives where they are staying for the moment, they are forced to continue living as they can. On scraps of food and hope.

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