The Malian government has confirmed that 22 Malians, including three children, died off the coast of Libya when their boat got into trouble towards the end of June.
The boat the migrants had been traveling on got into trouble off the coast off Libya on June 22, confirmed the Malian government late on Tuesday, July 5.
The dead Malians were among a group of 83 people on board the boat, government officials told Reuters.
In a statement, the Ministry of Malians Abroad said that 61 people on board that boat, including some other Malian nationals, were rescued and helped by the UN migration agency IOM.
"The expatriates ministry offers its condolences in the name of the [Malian] government to the affected families and to the Malian people for this tragedy," said a statement from the ministry.
The UN confirmed the figures, saying they had spoken to survivors from the boat who had reported how many people had died of drowning and others who were so dehydrated they died of thirst. Three children were among the dead, added the IOM.
According to the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP), the migrants on board the boat had set off from the Libyan city of Zuwara, not far from the Tunisian border. Their boat was made of rubber, the UN agency said.
Nine days at sea
IOM spokesperson Safa Msehli said that the migrants had been on board the boat for nine days before being picked up by the Libyan coast guard. They were then brought back to shore in Libya. Msehli said the majority of those who survived were also from Mali.
Many of those on board, said Msehli, were taken to hospital by the IOM, because of their bad health. The remaining migrants "were taken to Al Maya detention center," said Msehli to AFP.
The government said it was concerned that increased hunger, worsened by the war in Ukraine and the interruptions to wheat distribution could lead to a rise in the number of those leaving countries like Mali in the hope of making it to Europe. Many countries, including countries in northern and sub-Sahara Africa, previously relied on wheat exports from Ukraine for bread and flour.
Numbers leaving Niger and Mali increased
An IOM spokesperson confirmed that the numbers of people traveling from sub-Saharan Africa through Niger and Mali in the first quarter of 2022 had "significantly increased" compared to the same period in previous years.
Reuters reported that the number of migrants leaving Niger between January and April was 45% higher than the same period in 2021. The numbers of those leaving Mali in the same time period "almost doubled."
In addition to hunger and drought, the Sahel region, including Mali and Niger is also beset by violence coming from armed groups, many of them Islamist. Towards the end of June, at least 130 civilians were murdered by Jihadist armed groups in a mass killing in Diallassagou.
Insecurity in Mali
The massacre led local people to march and demand the government to protect them from these kinds of groups in future. Oumar Togo, the leader of one youth association which took part in the march told AFP, "we have gathered despite the rain to call for security, and to condemn the crimes."
In Mali, Togo said he was calling on the government to "ensure our security." A group affiliated to Al-Qaeda, calling itself Katiba Macina emerged in 2015, reports AFP, and has been responsible for many violent acts since then. To defend themselves, local people have formed self-defense militias and there are often inter-community reprisals.
Violence has spread out from Mali towards neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. Thousands of civilians and fighters have died in attacks like these. According to AFP, two-thirds of Mali "remains beyond state control."
Mali is currently under military rule and is "chronically unstable," reports AFP. More than two million have already fled their homes and thousands have died because of the various insurgencies rocking the country. Mali is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the world.
With AFP and Reuters