Islamic Relief is coming to the aid of families who have escaped slavery in Mali.

Slavery continues to exist in Mali, despite it being illegal, with thousands of people thought to be held in direct servitude. Many are caught in descent-based slavery, in which oppressors inherit families from one generation to the next.

Over 600 people have recently arrived in the village of Mambiri, in the Kita Circle, after fleeing their oppressors, to whom they refer as nobles.

“The history of us becoming slaves dates back for generations, said Coulibaly, describing the situation in the communes of Guemoukouba and Dindanko. “For example, if one of our daughters was to marry and we couldn’t raise the dowry, the nobles would do this but the condition was that we were to be enslaved by them.

“We had no intra-marriage rights between our community and theirs, there was work specifically assigned to us as slaves, but we received no payment. Young nobles would send the older men from our community to do whatever they wanted. There was no respect.

“Noble men would even take our wives for a few nights, and we could do nothing about it. Our children could not lead their class at school.”

Bid for freedom violently rejected

The former slaves had formed an association to ask their oppressors to free them from slavery. In response, their oppressors subjected them to grave emotional and physical abuse.

After escaping their oppressors, over 600 people are living in dire conditions in Mambiri.

“Many supporters of the nobles from surrounding villages came and put pressure on us to submit. When we did not, they beat us, destroyed our livelihoods, tore our clothes, left us naked and humiliated us.”

“The women beat us and the men beat our men,” added Diarra, who took her grandson to safety when she fled. “They would undress us and take our clothes as a flag. They also destroyed our homes, water, mats, food – anything we owned.”

Reaching Mambiri earlier this month, Islamic Relief found that formerly enslaved families were continuing to arrive in the village. They told us that they did not want to return home.

Dire living conditions

There is currently only improvised shelter available to them in Mambiri, with men and boys having to spend their nights outdoors in the wind and cold. The two functional boreholes in the village did not provide enough water even for the host community – with the new arrivals, there is water for less than 44 per cent of people.

Health concerns are also mounting, as there are insufficient sanitation facilities, lack of access to basic hygiene and dignity items and open defecation is being practiced.

The single primary school in Manbiri will struggle to find space to educate the newly arrived children, and the formerly enslaved people are without the means to earn a living – leaving them in urgent need of food aid.

New arrivals expected

The situation is expected to worsen, as more arrivals are anticipated in the days and weeks ahead, placing further pressure on the already limited resources and services in the village.

Conditions are expected to deteriorate as more people arrive in the following days and weeks.

Islamic Relief on the ground in Mambiri, helping those affected. So far, we have provided 487 blankets as well as hundreds of sleeping mats and mosquito nets and are working to scale up our emergency response.

We are coordinating with Plan International, in order to ensure our interventions work together to best assist vulnerable people.

Our next distributions will include more sleeping mats, as well as food supplies and water, sanitation and hygiene items. We will also work with the community to increase awareness of child protection and gender based violence issues.

Islamic Relief has been working in Mali since 1997, and globally is at the forefront of the fight against modern slavery. Support our vital work: Donate now.