French and African leaders have called on other world powers to provide funding and logistical support in the battle for Mali.
A coalition of Islamic militants controls the north of the country.
5,000 West African troops are being deployed to lead the fight, while France is due to boost its force to 2,500 soldiers next week.
Thousands of residents of northern Mali have fled abroad. Others have headed to the south of the country, which is secured by French and Malian forces.
The United Nations is warning of a refugee crisis that could lead to hundreds of thousands of people being displaced.
At a refugee camp in Sevare, Houyekouti Maiga said: “The Islamists have been targeting groups of girls and women to rape them. That is why I left Gao with my daughters and came here.”
Safety is also a concern in the areas outside the insurgents’ control. Human Rights Watch has reported abuses by Malian security forces in the central town of Niono.