Last month, Ibrahim Maiga, 50, witnessed a group of militants chasing a girl in front of his house. Her crime? Not wearing a djellaba, or full-body robe. She managed to escape, avoiding 10 lashes from a whip, he said. He thought of his wife and eight children, including four girls. It was an easy decision to leave.
“There’s no work, no food. And they are restricting our freedoms,” Maiga said. “Why should we stay?”
Collective anger grows
The restrictions on women have been felt especially in a rural tribal society where their role is vital to family and community life, encompassing everything from buying food at the markets to tilling the fields and taking care of the children. “It’s the woman who goes to the market, who cooks the food. This is not a man’s role,” Ehadt said. “This is the way we have lived for centuries.”
With each day, the collective anger grows in this refugee camp. Questions swirl in tent after tent, particularly during a meeting among the camp’s elders. Will Mali’s neighbors send a military force to oust the Islamists? Will the United Nations back such a force? When will they return home?
No one had any answers. One leader said he was prepared to remain in his tent for 20 years if northern Mali remains under the control of Ansar Dine.
“In Islam, you don’t kill your own brother,” said Ahiyu Ag Intawat, 72, head of the camp’s committee of elders, clenching his fists. “In Islam, you don’t drive your brothers out of their country and turn them into refugees.”
He paused and looked out at the barren moonscape he now calls home.
“They want to create their own world,” he said, before adding wistfully, “I hope the world will not allow this to happen.”