* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Armed confrontation in Kidal in northeast Mali last Saturday and again on Wednesday between Tuareg MNLA fighters and government forces has prompted new displacement, with small but growing numbers of people fleeing southwards or into neighbouring countries.
Our partner in northern Mali, IEDA Relief, estimates that Kidal town has so far seen 3,000 people fleeing affected neighbourhoods. People are mainly heading to the city outskirts or in the direction of Gao, where 400 people have so far arrived. These people told our teams they had been forced to hide in their homes in Kidal for two days without food, and while waiting for the fighting to decrease. They also said that more people are poised to flee both Kidal and Menaka to Gao.
Gao itself is not calm, and buses leaving the city towards Bamako are packed with people worried that the city might be attacked. UNHCR is ready to provide relief for 2,000 displaced persons in Gao and, in coordination with other UN agencies, to 1,000 internally displaced in Kidal, including blankets, jerry cans and buckets.
In Niger, 21 refugee arrivals from Menaka in the Gao region were seen on Wednesday at the Intikane refugee hosting area near the Mali border. Others are said to be trying to flee to Agando area in Niger. In Burkina Faso, 18 new refugees arriving from Gao and Bamako were seen in Bobo Dioulasso Thursday evening.
In Mauritania, refugees at the Mbera camp, just across the border from Mali, report having been contacted by family members in the Timbuktu area asking for help in getting to Mbera.
The displacement reported this week follows several months in which Malian refugees had been returning home spontaneously. As many as 12,000 refugees had headed back to the Gao and Timbuktu regions, many receiving aid from UNHCR. Thousands of internally displaced people have also returned to their home areas since mid-2013.
As of early May, some 137,000 Malians were still refugees in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, while 137,000 others were still internally displaced within Mali as a result of the volatile security in the North.