UN agency reinforces assistance to Malian refugees in neighbouring countriesListen /
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is ramping up assistance to people fleeing the ongoing fighting in Mali.
Following recent military operations in the north, which is controlled by Islamist extremists, UNHCR has increased assistance to its refugee camps in Burkina Faso and deployed staff to monitor the border with Mali.
UNHCR says nearly 230,000 people have been displaced within Mali and another 150,000 have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries since the crisis began a year ago.
The agency estimates there will be an additional 300,000 people displaced in Mali, and more than 400,000 refugees, in the near future.
Many people fleeing Mali say they fear the strict application of Sharia law, according to UNHCR Spokesperson Melissa Fleming.
"They report having witnessed executions, amputations, and they say that also large amounts of money are being offered to civilians to fight against the Malian army and its supporters. Disturbingly, also we are also hearing accounts that there are children among the rebel fighters; they're certainly not there willingly. Also, people very distressed at saying that family members have just disappeared."
UNHCR says newly arrived refugees in Burkina Faso are transported to places further inland for their safety.
Dianne Penn, United Nations.