Afraid and exhausted: Striking portraits of Mali’s refugees

January 29, 2013

Last year, Islamist groups swept into northern Mali, imposing a harsh form of retributive justice marked by executions and amputations. Fleeing their oppressive rule and the ensuing fighting, nearly 230,000 people have been displaced in Mali since early 2012, the Commission on Population Movements reported. There also are an estimated 144,500 Malian refugees in the region, including 54,000 in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, 38,800 in Burkina Faso and 1,500 in Algeria.

Those numbers can get lost in the daily developments, so the U.N. Refugee Agency put together a series of fascinating Instagram portraits of individual refugees and their tales.

For example, Ina Toure, 52, left the northern Malian town of Gao nine months ago when Islamists took control of the area. Her family of 15 people now shares a two-room home in a Bamako suburb and struggles to pay their rent, which is about $50, the agency says.


Ina Toure (Photo by Glenna Gordon, c/o UNHCR)

Moctat Maia, 50, fled his home because he was "afraid and exhausted." Most of the internally displaced are living in precarious conditions with a lack of access of health care, clean water and other resources, UNHCR writes.


Moctat Maia. (Glenna Gordon, c/o UNHCR)

Some bear the signs of life under Islamist rule. Suliman Traore and Moctar Toure both had their hands amputated by Islamist separatists in the northern Malian town of Gao. Both fled to Bamako soon after and now sell small goods near a bus station where they also sleep at night.


Suliman Traore, left, and Moctar Toure, right. (Glenna Gordon/UNHCR)

Haoussa Aidara, 35, left Timbuktu in April. She and her family fled to Mopti, but then left last week when the conflict intensified under the French military intervention. Her family is now renting a small two-room apartment in the capital, Bamako.


Haoussa Aidara. (Glenna Gordon, c/o UNHCR)

Check out the full set at UNHCR's Instagram feed.

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Olga Khazan · January 29, 2013