Mali has been through some especially turbulent time in recent years. The loss of a central government during 2012-2013 allowed an armed conflict to spin out of control. Human rights abuses continued even after the democratically held election in July 2013.
Though most refugees from Mali seek asylum in Europe, the numbers seeking asylum in the United States have also increased. This is especially true in places that have large Malian populations such as New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and Baltimore.
This article will discuss the prospects for obtaining asylum in the U.S. if you are a citizen of Mali who fled the country. See Nolo's articles on asylum for more information on basic eligibility and procedures.
The conflict in Mali has increased the number of Malian asylum seekers as well as the number of Malians granted asylum. As of early 2014, Mali was among the three top African countries from which applicants were interviewed at the New York Asylum Office.
The two most common types of claims currently heard from nationals of Mali are based on harm or fear of harm on account of political opinion or nationality and claims based on female genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM is a form of gender-based violence that is legal in Mali and widely practiced. The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 states that 89% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced FGM. Since FGM is considered harm rising to a level of severity that constitutes persecution, and since the harm is ongoing throughout the woman’s life, asylum applicants who have experienced FGM can be granted asylum.
The number of women and girls seeking asylum from Mali is 40 times what it used to be. Most of these women seek asylum in Europe, but many more are applying for asylum in the United States. See the UNHCR report “Female Genital Mutilation and Asylum in the European Union.”
Asylum claims from Malians based on persecution or fear of persecution on account of nationality or political opinion have also increased. The military is known to have committed serous human rights abuses including summary executions, torture, and forced disappearance of civilians. Many victims were harmed because the government believed that they belonged to rebel forces. The government also targeted Tuaregs and ethnic Arabs.
Some people were persecuted or fear persecution by rebel groups, who also tortured and murdered civilians and soldiers.
With the State Department Country Reports and world newspapers verifying the conflict and the FGM rate in Mali, your job as an applicant will be to convince the immigration judge or asylum officer that you are telling the truth about what you yourself went through. Proving your identity could be a challenge if you fled Mali without documents. In this situation you will have to either obtain replacement documents or have a reasonable explanation as to why you cannot submit identity documents.
Once you have proven your identity, you will have to convince the judge or officer that your story is credible. To do this, you will need to testify in a detailed, consistent, and plausible manner.
If you are a victim of FGM, you should consider seeing a doctor for an examination and a report verifying what happened to you. The doctor should also explain any and all ongoing medical issues you experience on account of the FGM.
It is also important to testify to the event in as much detail as you can. Describe exactly what happened to the judge or officer. Explain how you felt and how you would feel if you had to return to Mali.
Since there was a national conflict in Mali, it is important that you explain how and why you were individually targeted. If you were targeted on account of your nationality, explain how the persecutor knew your nationality, whether because of your name, appearance, residence, or any other reason. Submit any documents you have corroborating your nationality.
If you were targeted on account of your political opinion, describe in detail how you were harmed or why you fear harm. Don’t forget to explain why the persecutor chose to harm you.