* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With the first round of Mali's presidential elections scheduled for this Sunday (July 28th), UNHCR is continuing preparations with the Malian authorities and neighbouring states for out-of-country voting for refugees. Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger host some 173,000 Malian refugees who fled their country when conflict erupted in January 2012.
UNHCR's role in the elections is about caring for the rights of refugees by facilitating their participation and ensuring the voluntariness of the electoral process in a safe environment. Our role is humanitarian and non-political. In June, we conducted formal and informal surveys in major refugee areas through discussion groups. The surveys found that refugees were generally in favour of being included in the elections, that they have good awareness of the situation in Mali, and that some believe the elections will help peace and stability – a fundamental condition for many refugees in deciding whether to return to their country.
Our teams in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania have been meeting with refugee communities to clearly explain our role in facilitating participation and respecting neutrality. We have helped transport some election-related materials. However, transportation of sensitive materials, such as voters' cards or ballots papers, will be the responsibility of the Malian electoral authorities and the countries of asylum.
Malian authorities visited refugee camps and other sites in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger in June to establish willingness to vote. In total 19,020 refugees have voluntarily registered to take part, out of 73,277 refugees of voting age (18 and above). Names were then verified against the biometric civil registry (RAVEC – Recensement Administratif à Vocation d'Etat Civil) which was last updated in 2011 and used to establish the electoral lists. UNHCR is concerned that only a low number of names of refugees interested in voting were found in the registry. In Burkina Faso, and according to Malian registration teams, 876 out of the 3,504 registered refugees were found in the RAVEC; 8,409 out of 11,355 registered refugees in Mauritania, and 932 out 4,161 registered refugees in Niger. In other words, only around half the refugees who have volunteered to take part in the election have so far been found in the registry.
As concerning, are reports that only a few NINA (Numéro d'Identification nationale) voting cards have so far been provided by Malian authorities to refugees in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. In Burkina Faso for instance, only 32 NINA cards have at this point reached the Malian representation. The delay in the issuance and distribution of NINA cards is not specific to refugees but is also impacting many Malian citizens within Mali as well as abroad.
It is important that the Malian authorities quickly make public the voters' lists and speed distribution of the electoral cards in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania. This is especially important as refugee camps and sites are located in remote areas, where access may become difficult with the rainy season now settling in. The Malian authorities have informed us that they are considering alternatives to allow refugees to vote in case of further delays.
173,593 Malians have found refuge in neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict in January 2012, including 49,975 in Burkina Faso, 48,710 in Niger, 74,907 in Mauritania and 1,500 in Algeria. 353,000 persons are also internally displaced according to our partner the Commission de Mouvement de Population in Mali.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Dakar, Hélène Caux (Regional) on mobile + 221 77 333 1291In Burkina Faso, Stéphane Jaquemet on mobile +226 66 01 42 81In Niger, Karl Steinacker on mobile+ 227 92 19 31 46In Mauritania, Ann Maymann on mobile +222 02 29 39 353In Mali, Sebastien Apatita on mobile + 223 74 20 11 66In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83