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For Mali refugees, struggle to get by is biggest battle

Joe Penney / Reuters

A Malian woman lies on the floor of her home, a tent provided by the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, in Mbera refugee camp, Mauritania. Pictures taken on May 23 and 24, 2012.

Reuters photographer Joe Penney reports from Mbera, a refugee camp in Mauritania, west Africa which has become home to 64,000 Malians who have fled violence in their home country:

Joe Penney / Reuters

The inside of a makeshift shelter. Hundreds of families living outside the official camp grounds reside in informal structures built from whatever materials they can find, including sticks, blankets, towels and empty cement bags.

 Mbera functions like a fairly normal Saharan city: there are schools, a butcher, hairdressers, lots of tea and even the odd electric guitar. Traditionally nomadic peoples, many of the Tuaregs and Berabiche Arab tribes who left Mali for Mbera are accustomed to a life of minimal material comfort and establishing their homes under tents built from available materials. But events in Mali have provided a new challenge: political instability and violence.

Since Tuareg and Salafist rebels began their campaign in January for an independent state called Azawad, in Northern Mali, more than 320,000 people have fled their homes and about half of them have sought asylum in refugee camps in neighboring states.

 The more politically inclined younger generation pin their hopes on an independent Azawad. But for those a bit older who witnessed the negative effects of violence in past decades, the struggle to get by takes precedence. The words of Mohamed Iselkou, a 45-year-old farmer and businessman from Timbuktu, described the sentiments of many in Mbera: "We just want to go home."

Read the full story and see more pictures on the Reuters Photographers Blog.

Joe Penney / Reuters

Ibrahim ag Jiddou, 12, poses for a picture in his makeshift shelter made of sticks and cloth. Jiddou and his family fled violence in his hometown of Lere, Mali, in March. They took 19 hours in a bush taxi to get to Mbera. He says he wants to be a general in the army of an independent state of Azawad when he grows up.

Joe Penney / Reuters

Zeinab Mint Hama, 25, poses for a picture with her children (left to right) Zuber, Bon Oumar and Seydna Ali in front of their shelter. Hama fled her hometown of Lere, Mali, in January with relatives and her children because of violence, leaving her husband behind, to ensure the children were safe.

Joe Penney / Reuters

Sisters Takia, 20, left, and Fatimata Wallet Mohammed, 18, pose for a picture in their shelter. In March, Takia and Fatimata fled their home in Lere, Mali, along with their parents and five other siblings. They say they are waiting for the international community to recognize the independent state of Azawad before returning home.