Cablegate: Unhcr Report Finds Tuareg Refugees Not Refugees

DE RUEHBP #0648/01 1920900
R 100900Z JUL 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

B. BAMAKO 00507
D. BAMAKO 00435
E. BAMAKO 00610

1.(SBU) Summary: The UN High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) office in Bamako recently shared with the Embassy an
internal UNHCR assessment of claims by Malian Tuaregs who
ostensibly crossed into neighboring Burkina Faso to flee
fighting in northern Mali. The arrival of roughly 1000
Malian Tuaregs in Burkina Faso in May 2008 - and the decision
to set up a camp for about 300 of these individuals at a
football stadium in Ouagadougou - received a considerable
amount of international press coverage and upset Malian
officials who maintained that there was no reason for Tuaregs
to flee northern Mali (Ref. A). According to the report,
only 11 of the 300 Tuaregs housed at the football stadium in
Ouagadougou are from the region of Kidal. UNHCR concluded
that the rest of the Malian Tuaregs camped in Ouaga and Djibo
did not meet refugee criteria. UNHCR found that many of
these Tuaregs were either already living in Burkina, hailed
from Bamako or Niger, or were of a certain "non-civilian"
status. The report also strongly criticized Burkina Faso's
National Refugee Commission (CONAREF), the Government of
Burkina Faso and the international media, thereby raising
perhaps more questions than it answered. End Summary.

2.(U) On July 6 the Embassy received a copy of an internal
June 13 UNHCR assessment of Malian Tuareg refugees seeking
asylum in neighboring Burkina Faso. The UNHCR office in
Bamako communicated the report to the Malian Ministry of
Territorial Administration on June 23. The assessment was
conducted by UN officials based in Senegal, Benin, Togo and
Mali and included representatives from UNICEF, the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN
Populations Fund, the World Food Program (WFP) and Burkina's
National Institute for Statistics. The assessment team
interviewed Tuareg populations claiming refugee status in
Ouagadougou and Djibo.

3.(U) UNHCR provided assistance to approximately 600
individuals in May after receiving a formal request for help
from the Burkina government. According to the UNHCR report,
"this was done with the clear understanding that the
provision of assistance to members of this group was given on
a purely humanitarian basis pending a thorough evaluation of
the situation on the ground in the country of origin and in
Burkina Faso." UNHCR subsequently dispatched two assessment
teams - one to Burkina and a second to Mali "to collect
country of origin information." The report states that
limited results from the assessment visits to Burkina and
Mali, combined with "the growing media coverage of the
legitimate interest of the UN Country Team situation
commanded setting up an interagency mission, with the WFP,
UNICEF, OCHA joining UNHCR teams from Cotonou and Dakar to
evaluation the situation in Ouaga and Djibo."

4.(U) The UN interagency mission concluded that "the
discrepancy between the reasons which allegedly prompted the
flight of members of this group of asylum seekers and the
facts as recorded" cast "serious doubts on the motivations
behind such a movement" of supposed Malian Tuareg refugees.
In support of this conclusion, the evaluation team
highlighted "the presence amongst members of this group of
Touaregs who have been living in Ouaga for months, even years
and who joined this group, attracted by the prospects of
material assistance. Some families who were leading a normal
life in rented houses in Ouaga, opted to join the group in
the stadium, induced by the security of life in a camp
established (by) CONAREF and where their needs would be cared

5.(U) The evaluators also documented the presence of Tuaregs
from Niger and Bamako. "While the latter," said the report
in reference to Tuaregs from Bamako, "is difficult to
understand, the former is worrisome as it points to a
possible alliance between the MNJ of Niger and the Touareg
rebels in Mali." The UNHCR team also drew attention to some
individuals with a "non-civilian profile." The report said
the presence of these individuals within the group of asylum
seekers called for "extreme caution."

6.(U) No more than 10 to 15 individuals claimed to be from
the northern Malian region of Kidal, roughly 800 km from the
Mali-Burkina frontier. The UNHCR report speculated that
these individuals, along with some Malian Tuaregs originating
in the Gao region closer to the Burkina border, may have

BAMAKO 00000648 002 OF 002

traveled to Burkina to flee sporadic fighting, poor economic
prospects, soaring food prices or any combination of the

7.(U) The report sharply criticized the Burkina Faso
National Refugee Commission (CONAREF), concluding that "the
precipitation with which the CONAREF has acted and the
prospects of new life have significantly contributed to
amplify the original situation." The report also faulted
decisions by the international media and Burkina government.
"Equally of concern," said the report, "is the Media
coverage, a hammering worthy of a humanitarian emergency,
encouraged by the authorities which induced more people to
cross the border. Hundreds of families are waiting at the
border (for) the establishment of a camp. The visit of three
ministers to the stadium where 300 people are located has
conferred to the operation a much higher profile than
required; A special appeal to the international community for
assistance was even made publicly by the MFA."

8.(U) The UNHCR assessment team found the "insistence" of
Burkinabe authorities to set up a refugee camp in Ouaga
"operationally hard to justify," but speculated that this
insistence "may be explained by the security concerns" posed
by the "uncontrolled presence" of Malian Tuaregs. The team
concluded that while follow up with the 10-15 individuals
from Kidal is warranted, "a fully fledged assistance program
through a camp based structure is operationally inappropriate
under the present circumstances and legally difficult to
reconcile with refugee criteria."

9.(U) Comment: Few Malians believed that the Tuaregs camped
in Burkina hailed from the region of Kidal, particularly
after radio interviews with some of the individuals betrayed
accents more in line with Tuareg populations located in the
region of Gao along the Mali-Burkina border. However,
international press reports of an exodus of Tuareg civilians
fleeing fighting in the north put a considerable amount of
pressure on the Malian government and elevated, however
briefly, an internal conflict between the Malian military and
Tuareg rebel/bandits to the level of an international
humanitarian crisis (Ref. B).

10.(SBU) Comment continued: In some respects, the UNHCR
assessment raises more questions than it resolves. The
authors' strong words for the Burkinabe Refugee Commission
and Burkinabe Government seem curious, as does the
speculation that some "non-civilian" members of the MNJ are
integrated among the Tuaregs camped in Ouagadougou and Djibo.
There is no doubt that some Malian Tuaregs, still cognizant
of the humanitarian consequences of the 1991-1996 rebellion
for Malians of Tuareg and Arab decent and eager to avoid
becoming entrapped by future hostilities, have fled the
northern regions of Gao and Timbuktu for Burkina and
Mauritania (Ref. C). Apart from the 10-15 individuals
identified by UNHCR in Ouagadougou, most Tuaregs displaced by
actual fighting in the region of Kidal have either moved to
remote desert encampments still within the Kidal region or
across Mali's northern border to southern Algeria (Ref. D).
It is conceivable that some Bamako-based Tuaregs, fearful of
the way winds appeared to be blowing earlier this year -
particularly following the April 10 executions of two Tuaregs
in Kidal, decided to leave the Malian capital with their
families for Burkina or elsewhere. Many Tuaregs left Bamako
to avoid reprisals during Mali's 1991-1996 rebellion and some
also left, only to return a short time later, after the May
2006 attacks by Tuareg rebels on Malian military bases in
Kidal and Menaka. It is also possible that some of
"non-civilian" Malian Tuaregs in Djibo and Ouagadougou who
hail from the region of Gao were involved, or are relatives
of those who were involved, in the May 12 attack on the
Malian gendarme base in Ansongo, which is less than 150 km
from the Burkina border.

© Scoop Media

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