Nothing to Share: The Case of the Mbera Refugee Camp

BY JANICE CANTIERI

Crowded quarters are the norm within the tents of Mbera

The Northern Mali conflict is an ongoing, armed dispute between the Malian government and Tuareg separatists who seek independence from the Malian government. As a result of this conflict, which began in January of 2012, over 200,000 Malian refugees have fled to United Nations camps in neighboring countries including Nigera, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso, while another 204,000 are internally displaced within Mali. Over 68,000 of these refugees have fled to the Mbera refugee camp in southeastern Mauritania, according to a September report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Tensions have increased recently between the Malian refugees and the local people because the living conditions inside Mbera are in many ways better than the conditions for Mauritanians surrounding the camp. In addition to Malian refugees, up to one-fifth of Mbera residents are locals claiming to be refugees, creating an increased demand for food supplies and medical care within the camp. In September, an unidentified mob, presumably locals, stole 15 tons of food supplies and other items from the camp, which temporarily reduced the camp’s operations solely to medical care.

A large factor in the distress in Mbera is the huge gaps between locals and the newcomers: “80 percent of refugee households in the camp [eat] three balanced meals a day, compared with only 14 percent of local people living nearby,” according to a Joint Assessment Mission(JAM) by the UNHCR and the World Food Programme and a Thompson Reuters Foundation report. In addition, the JAM reported that the presence of the camp has impacted the area’s access to drinking water and resources for feeding livestock, also increasing transportation costs in the area.

The disruptions and challenges at Mbera illustrate the difficulties faced by refugees fleeing conflict, but also the increased burdens placed on receiving locals in developing countries, who often also lack access to basic necessities. The presence of the Mbera Refugee Camp provides asylum for Northern Malians, but at the same time, local Mauritanians continue to struggle.

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Janice Cantieri is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jcantieri@wustl.edu

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