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If We Can't Cope With Asylum Seekers, How Will Mali?

20/06/2014 16:00 BST | Updated 20/08/2014 10:59 BST

2014-06-20-refugeesinMali.jpg
Left: Refugees And Displaced People in Mali, '000; Right: UN 2014-2016 Humanitarian Funding Plans for Mali, USDmn

Source: UNOCHA, Business Monitor International

It's World Refugee Day and all the Brits are moaning about "them" coming over here to take our jobs, thieve our unemployment benefit and lie around in hospital having babies all day while simultaneously working 20 hours a day cleaning toilets.

So, here's an interesting set of statistics for you, my British compatriots: the refugee crisis in Mali, one of the world's poorest countries with a population of 15 million where 10% of the population face starvation.

It is just a part of a regional crisis, caused by conflict - in Mali's case, a low-level civil war between Tuareg separatists and jihadists on one side and the Malian authorities backed by their former colonial masters on the other. The huge burden of refugees is adding to political instability. The UN states that "over 20 million people are projected to be in need of humanitarian assistance" this year, nearly twice the number in 2013. As well as dealing with its many internally displaced, Mali is host to thousands of refugees from neighbouring states.

The UNHCR estimates that "more than 350,000 people have fled their homes in Mali since fighting erupted in the north in January 2012." Although a French-led operation routed rebels from the north, when the operations were scaled back the rebellion - one of several fought by materially disadvantaged and ethnically persecuted Tuaregs over the past century - re-emerged and last month violence led to further displacement.

A coalition of NGOs stated earlier this year that "the combined effects of armed conflict and the lasting impacts of the 2012 food crisis in the north of Mali, combined with poor recent harvests, have had a severe effect on populations, limiting access to food and livelihoods for the most vulnerable." This has sparked further post-conflict displacement as people search for food - although hungry as a result of war, they are not counted in refugee statistics as they do not meet the strict criteria that defines a refugee as fleeing persecution. The truth is that Mali and other Sahelian states cannot cope.

Britain may be the world's fifth largest economy and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but we can wash our hands of the problem and turn away from the crisis in the Sahel. But how does abandoning millions to a grim fate make the UK, ruled by a government that talks up "British values" of democracy, tolerance and equality, more "civilised" than those who are responsible for this man-made humanitarian crisis?