The causes of the Tuareg refugee problems reside in the wider context of the profound and, in many ways, catastrophic social, political, economic, and environmental changes that had affected the area for several decades prior to the refugee exodus. The result has been a progressive disruption of the fragile agropastoralist equilibrium on which the livelihood of the area depends. The destabilization of Tuareg historical territories was the long-term consequence of three main factors. First, French colonial rule and the subsequent rise of nation-states in the Saharan weakened the Tuareg tribes and ended their control of the trans-Saharan caravan trade that had been a major source of income for them. Second, the environmental degradation brought about by 25 years of low rainfall between 1965 and 1990 worsened into the disastrous droughts of 1973 and 1984 and further destroyed the traditional livelihood of pastoral nomads. Finally, there was the marginalization of northern regions of Mali and Niger by the Malian and Nigerian governments in the years following independence in 1960. While northern regions comprise about 70 percent of the two countries' territories, they are home to only 10 percent of their populations, and government investment in these vast regions remained negligible to nonexistent.
   The consequence of these factors led to the emergence of militant opposition, particularly among certain groups of young men in the Tuareg areas of the far northeast (Kidal and Menaka) who came to be known as ishumar (jobless). In 1963, the first rebellion in Kidal was harshly put down and led to the imposition of military rule in the area. The much more well-organized rebellions of 1990s, sparked by a parallel uprising in northern Niger, was spearheaded by Tuareg combatants who had earlier migrated to Libya in search of work and received military training there. The fighting led to the flight of some 150,000 persons from Mali to Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger between 1990 and 1994.
   Currently, there are approximately 68,000 assisted Tuareg refugees in Burkina Faso and Mauritania and about 100,000 in Algeria from Mali and Niger. Tuareg refugee populations face three pressing and interrelated problematic issues. The first involves the urgent need for an assessment of the refugee resettlement programs, especially the extent to which the grievances and causes of the Tuareg rebellions of the 1990s have been addressed. The second is the prevailing insecurity spurred by the spillover of Algeria's Islamic struggles and politics into Tuareg territories. The third is the rise of banditry, warlordism, and smuggling of illegal goods across the Sahara, especially cigarettes, hard drugs, and arms, and the trafficking of illegal migrants to Europe. The "no-man's-land" image could potentially be the major problem facing Tuareg populations and refugees as mounting insecurity is increasing people's perceptions and fears that the causes that led to the Tuareg rebellions in the 1990s in Mali and Niger may resurface.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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