Education International
Education International

Mali: Teachers faced with violence in the north of the country

published 21 March 2012 updated 26 March 2012

EI is deeply concerned after the recent coup attempt in Mali. The Syndicat national de l’Education et de la Culture (SNEC), its national affiliate, has told EI of the alarming level of violence currently raging through the north of the country, causing the closure of a large number of schools and disrupting the education system.

At least 30,000 people have been displaced in Mali and live in extremely precarious conditions following battles between the Malian army and armed groups from the Mouvement National de Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA – the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) since mid-January.

“Large numbers of displaced people are fleeing the fighting in great urgency and with nothing,” said a SNEC representative. “The most recent reports from our union representative in Northern Mali are particularly worrying.”

Classrooms closed

The movement of teachers away from conflict zones such as Ménaka, d'Aguelhoc, Andéramboukane, Tessalit Tine Essako and Léré and the surrounding villages has led to classrooms being closed in all these areas. Many parents of pupils have fled with their children to the large towns of Gao and Timbuktu. Some teachers native to Northern Mali have stayed in Gao or Timbuktu, while the majority have taken refuge in the south of the country and in Bamako in the hope of being redeployed in other teaching establishments.

Violent fighting in Aguelhoc has forced about 4,000 people to flee to the surrounding villages, but most are living in very dangerous conditions. Some of the refugees have been taken in by local families, but most have had to improvise makeshift shelters under the scorching sun of this semi-desert region.

Lost everything

“They are desperately short of food, not to mention the fact that they have lost many of their animals during their flight, while some people have lost everything they had,” said a teacher from the Aguelhoc teacher training institute. “Teachers, student teachers and pupils have been experiencing a terrible ordeal since the attack by the MNLA.”

The fighting which took place in Ménaka and Andéramboukane also forced more than 15,000 people – from Mali and Niger – to seek refuge in Niger, near the border. It is feared other areas affected by the insurrection, such as Niafounké, Tonka and Ténenkou, will not be safe unless something is done in the next few days.

Guarantee teachers’ safety

EI condemns this violence and asks the national authorities to do whatever they can to guarantee the safety of the teachers, students and their families in the areas afflicted by this fighting.

The EI Declaration, “Schools shall be safe sanctuaries”, demands that “the international community, governments and all parties involved in conflict must recognise and respect the right of all children and adults to receive an education in complete safety and in a peaceful educational environment and respect educational establishments as safe havens”.

The document goes on to say “that it has proved to be vital to manage all educational systems and establishments in such a way as to promote tolerance, understanding and respect for cultural and religious diversity, as well as the resolution of conflicts, by standing behind the principles set out in the 1966 Recommendation concerning the conditions of teaching staff. This initiative would allow educational establishments to become safe havens able to contribute actively to the easing of political tensions and would encourage the recognition of and respect for places of learning as violence-free areas that must never be targeted.”