As French and African forces continue to confront the Islamist rebellion in Mali, the United Nations expects as many as 700,000 people to be uprooted by the violence.
The UN’s refugee agency thinks hundreds of thousands of them will flee to neighbouring countries, joining almost 150,000 who have already left.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva: “We have been hearing horrific accounts from refugees in the neighbouring countries. They report having witnessed executions, amputations, and they say also large amounts of money being offered to civilians to fight against the Malian army and its supporters”.
In Mali – one woman – who had left the rebel-controlled central city of Diabali said: “It’s hard over there; it’s too much. We’ve been stuck inside. We can’t wash and we are hungry. The children haven’t eaten for a few days. This is why we are leaving”.
Another woman said many local residents have no option but to leave: “Islamists kicked us out of our houses. They are searching for homes with sets of double doors to hide their vehicles. They also use trees to hide. They conceal their cars under branches,” she said.
Some 230,000 Malians are already internally displaced within the country.