By Raby Ould Idoumou
Refugees from the Mali crisis are showing signs of psychological trauma as scores of people flee the war between the Malian government and Azawad separatists in northern Mali.
At Camp Mbéré in northeast Mauritania, Red Crescent activists have been working to alleviate suffering and reduce the complications of their psychological conditions. The current efforts, however, are not enough, according to some refugees living in the camp.
“An unknown number of women and men have become homeless because of war and no one knows what happened to them,” Malian refugee Mehdi Ould Ibrahim told Magharebia.
“During the bombardment, people fled to different areas – especially fathers and mothers who were travelling abroad or on special business trips outside Timbuktu,” he said, explaining that at least a hundred homeless boys and girls did not know the fate of their parents because of panic caused by repeated attacks on cities in northern Mali.
Mehdi, another refugee waiting in a long line for a medical check-up, told Magharebia: “Most of the victims of this camp who lost their families are from Timbuktu and Monké in the north of the country.” According to him, they are still alive, thanks to neighbours and relatives who evacuated them after the militants stormed the two cities.
In addition to displaced children, some refugees’ loved ones were reportedly assassinated by members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar al-Din.
Refugee Abu Bakr Ould Ahmed told Magharebia that AQIM executes people without making any specific charges against them.
“The people fled from the organisation when it entered Timbuktu and Leyra because most of them were in panic,” he said. “They left behind their money and houses and fled the country.”
“Some of them even died in mysterious circumstances near the Algerian border,” he said.
Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Sheykh, director of mauripress.info and an activist in a relief organisation, cited refugee Fatima Mohamed Seydou as saying: “AQIM elements shot my father dead before my own eyes.”
Ould Sheykh said that her father was known for his opposition to AQIM’s terrorist activities, often criticising its ideology as “extremist”.
According to the man’s daughter, “the organisation elements first kidnapped him to threaten him, however, when this didn’t make him change his positions, they executed him”.
For others, the psychological relationship with the crisis is different. The refugee camps are filled with people with stories of loss by the hand of AQIM.
Mohamed Ali lost his son Ahmed Ould Mohamed Ali when he was killed by AQIM after they accused him of espionage for the Malian army.
Another example is the family of Abu Bakr Ould Hamed, who was kidnapped in Timbuktu in mysterious circumstances by the terrorist group and was later released. He is wanted by the Mauritanian security agencies.
There are also families of some officers, such as Col. Hama who was killed by the terrorist group.
Mbéré refugee camp doctor Oumar Ould Mohamed said the displaced face great difficulty in dealing with the psychological trauma caused by war.
“Some refugees who are facing special psychological conditions because of the cycle of terror are finding themselves in urgent need of more assistance and psychological support programmes,” he said.
But on top of the mental issues, refugees are confronted on a daily basis by physical ailments.
Refugee Antitu Bint Ebrihmat explained that daily life in the camp takes its toll on mental well-being. She said that refugees who have recently arrived didn’t get tents or their daily food allowance.
“Most refugees back Mali’s territorial integrity and reject any call for separation from the Malian regime in Bamako,” she said.