Burkina Workers Aiding Tuareg Refugees

By Andrew and Esther Schaeffer, the Alliance field leadership couple in Burkina Faso

Updated: March 8, 2012

Recent attacks by Tuareg* rebels (seeking an independent state in northern Mali) have evolved into a refugee crisis. According to the online news source allAfrica, the number of people who have crossed from Mali into neighbouring countries now stands at close to 80,000. 

In the past couple weeks about 8,000 Tuareg (an Arabic term meaning “abandoned by God”) have come to Burkina; we hear that more are arriving daily. [As of March 2, 2012, more than 19, 000 Tuaregs had reportedly fled to various parts of Burkina.] This has provided us with an unusual opportunity to share the love and compassion of Christ with a people who have historically been staunch adherents of the region’s predominant religion.

Harrowing Escape

Tuareg refugees who have been unable to secure housing and cannot afford a hotel room have found shelter at the old stadium in Bobo Dioulasso. Last week, Esther and Burkina Alliance church leaders were warmly welcomed when they brought the refugees 100 towels and large bars of soap.

Our team was led to several women and girls sitting on mats in a large storage room under the stadium stands. It was obvious that they were refugees, since they were surrounded by a few suitcases and bags—all of their earthly possessions.

The women immediately began to tell of their harrowing escape—how they had been hidden in friends’ homes until they could get out of the country. They talked about houses being burned, stores being ransacked, and even some relatives who had been killed. The mothers were still anxious about children and relatives who had been left behind.

“An Open Door”

Alliance personnel are working together to provide the Bobo stadium refugees with rice, oil, milk, coffee and tea, as well as drinking glasses, water buckets, and cooking pots.

With our limited resources, we can only do so much, but for the next two weeks—until other aid agencies arrive on the scene—we have committed to help school the Tuareg children. We have secured a room under the stadium stands, employed two Christian teachers from the Burkina Alliance Church, and provided the 40 or so students with notebooks, pens, and pencils.

Colleague Mary Crowgey has committed to teach the English class each morning, and Esther will continue to visit and help as she is able.

We want to take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love in practical ways as long as this door remains open—to demonstrate to this people that our loving God has not abandoned them.

How You Can Pray

When people are displaced, they are often more open to the gospel. When Esther asked if she could pray for the Tuareg families, they immediately accepted. She was pleasantly surprised to see two of the women at Bobo’s Central Alliance Church this past Sunday.

Please pray with us that this refugee crisis will work together for the salvation of many Tuareg families. Pray, too, that we will have wisdom as we seek to respond to the needs and share the good news about Jesus with these families.

*Learn More: The Tuareg

The presence of the nomadic Tuareg was first recorded by Herodotus in the 5th Century B.C., but their heritage is unknown. Inhabitants of North Africa, mostly northern Mali, northern Niger, and southern Algeria, they are estimated to number between 300,000 and 1 million today.

The BBC reports that Mali’s Tuaregs have long felt marginalized by [Mali’s] southern government and have staged several rebellions over the years.

According to the online news source allAfrica, The Tuaregs’ long-standing grievances are that their desert heartlands, specifically in northern Mali and northern Niger, need urgent development but have been neglected by the central governments of these respective countries.

There were a number of violent Tuareg rebellions in both Mali and Niger in the 90s and 00s.

Article sources: Note: Clicking on the following links will take you off of the C&MA Web site.

AllAfrica, “West Africa: UN Reports Continued Inflow of Refugees,” March 2, 2012.

BBC News Africa, “Mali: Tuareg Rebellion Forces Medical Staff to Withdraw,” February 7, 2012.

The Bradshaw Foundation, “The Tuareg of the African Sahara: The Nomadic Inhabitants of North Africa”.

The Guardian, “Mali conflict sends refugees fleeing across border to Niger,” February, 27, 2012.

The University of Iowa, “Art and Life in Africa: Tuareg Information”.


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