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Mali: “I know I’m the lucky one”

“I was with my young son, who is one, and my daughter who is three. I couldn’t bring all of our things. It was a very threatening environmentwe had to find any means of leaving.”

Mariam is one of the 170,000 people who have been displaced by the violence tearing families and communities apart in northern Mali.

Mariam and her husband Kassim sit outside their new home. Their young daughter is climbing over Kassim and their baby son cuddles up to Mariam on her lap.

They seem perfectly content, but as they explain how they have come to live here, it becomes clear that only a few months ago their lives and futures were in extreme danger and they’re still living through the consequences now.

A family torn apart

“My family was in Bourem, near Gao but I was serving in Ber. It was more dangerous for me because I was a soldier – the first target was the military. I didn’t wear my uniform, I took it off, or I would have been targeted,” Kassim explains.

“I left Ber to go to Timbuktu. From there I went to Goundam, then onto Dire. When I reached Dire I took a wooden boat, a pirogue, to Mopti. I spent four days on that boat before reaching Mopti.

“After Mopti I came to Yorosso, alone. Once I arrived here I set about finding money to send to my family in Bourem.

“When my wife received the money, she came south too. It costs 5,000 CFA (US$10) per person on the bus from Bourem to Gao. Before the rebellion it cost 2,500 CFA, so it has doubled. You also have to pay the rebels 5,000 CFA to pass.  This has obviously affected our family a lot.”

Kassim looks over at his wife – I can sense the bond between them, the fear and the worry that must have plagued them during Kassim’s treacherous journey south, and Mariam’s wait for help from her husband.

Mariam’s story begins

“I was at my father’s house – he was a policeman. He was taken by the rebels for two days – they thought he was a soldier. I was very scared.

“He explained he wasn’t a soldier and they released him. But it made us realise how dangerous the situation was and that we had to leave. Lots of people left at the same time.”

After receiving the money from Kassim, Mariam left with her children and sister to start her own bid for freedom and safety.

During this time, Mariam was separated from her father and brothers, as they headed to the capital, Bamako, to find new jobs and education opportunities.

“It’s very difficult – so many families have been separated. I find that the hardest thing. I lost my mother last year – she was very ill – and now I’m separated from my father and my brothers. I really worry about them – I don’t know what conditions they’re living in. My family isn’t complete.”

However, Mariam is extremely positive about her new life – she seems determined to keep her family together, safe and happy.

She’s continuing her studies and hopes to find work. When I ask what she wants to do, she replies, “It doesn’t matter what work, I just want to help my husband.”

Just before I leave, I ask Mariam what her message for the people outside of Mali is.

She looks to the floor and says, “There are families in the North who had to stay – my uncle had to stay because he didn’t have enough money to leave. If I had one message for people it’s that those in the North really need help. I know I’m the lucky one.”

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