Tombouctou RRM coordinator visiting IDP site in Bourem Inaly commune.

Photo : Mohamed Salaha / NRC Mali
NRC's Rapid Response Mechanism coordinator in Tombouctou visiting a site for displaced people in Bourem Inaly commune in 2021. Photo: Mohamed Salaha/NRC

New sanctions risk plunging the people of Mali further into a humanitarian crisis

Published 19. Jan 2022
New sanctions against Mali could have a devastating impact on the country, where one in three people are already dependent on humanitarian aid. 13 NGOs are urging all states and bodies supporting these sanctions to unequivocally commit to applying humanitarian exemptions, so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need.

A group of 13 NGOs are calling for the international community to protect the people of Mali, following the announcement of new sanctions against the country in response to the interim authorities’ decision to shelve the democratic elections promised for next month.

Last week, the European Union announced plans to support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the implementation of collective sanctions on Mali. The restrictions by ECOWAS include closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, as well as cutting off financial aid and freezing the country’s assets at the Central Bank of West African States. The transition government of Mali has reciprocated, closing its borders with all ECOWAS member states, apart from Guinea.

These sanctions will have devastating consequences for the people and the humanitarian situation in Mali. The people of Mali already face the worst food insecurity seen in 10 years, with over 7.5 million people - more than a third of the country’s population - in need of humanitarian aid. It’s critical that these new restrictions do not further hamper people’s ability to access humanitarian assistance and basic social services in a country where 70% of the food is imported and where 1.2 million Malians are facing a food crisis. Mali is strongly dependent on external assistance to finance basic social services. In the area of health, for example, external donors covered 33% of total health expenditure in 2019.

"Malians are already bearing the brunt of the humanitarian catastrophe, punctuated by horrifying attacks against civilians. Sanctions must not hold us back from delivering essential assistance in a country where drought, rising insecurity, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 are already pushing millions of Malians over the edge,” says Elena Vicario, Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Mali.

The United States has also underlined its support for ECOWAS, while France - in its first weeks of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union - has suspended flights to Mali.

The 13 organisations - comprising the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are calling for urgent humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions and any related administrative processes must be urgently clarified, in order to protect the humanitarian response in Mali. To continue their work effectively, humanitarian actors must have unfettered access for the transportation of live-saving goods including food and medicine, as well as guarantees that they can transfer funds into the country without violating the sanctions.

“Despite more than a third of the country’s population being dependent on humanitarian aid, organisations working in Mali already face severe access constraints. It’s imperative that the international community keeps responding to people’s urgent needs, and that any new sanctions have concrete humanitarian exemptions. These must be monitored and implemented, or the most vulnerable people in Mali will pay the price,” says Franck Vannetelle, IRC Country Director in Mali.

Mali, ECOWAS and the members of the international community supporting these sanctions must monitor their impact, and unequivocally commit to applying humanitarian exemptions in line with existing guidelines - taking all necessary measures to limit the impact of these measures on civilians.


The full list of signatories includes:

  • International Rescue Committee
  • Action Against Hunger
  • CARE
  • CECI
  • Danish Refugee Council
  • HELP
  • Mercy Corps
  • Norwegian Church Aid
  • Norwegian Refugee Council
  • Oxfam
  • Plan International
  • Terre des hommes Lausanne
  • World Vision

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

  • NRC global media hotline:, +47 905 62329
  • Tom Peyre-Costa, Regional Media Adviser in West and Central Africa. Whatsapp: +33658518391 Email: