Nomadic Tuareg cattle breeders forced to leave their cows behind in Mali for a camp in neighbouring Burkina Faso say they feared for their lives back home, even in towns supposedly freed of jihadists.

More than 2,000 Malian refugees fleeing the fighting in Mali arrived at the camp for aid in Burkina Faso in the past two weeks, Radio-Canada's Sophie Langlois reported for the CBC.

"Every day we hear of civilians being attacked by enraged soldiers," one escaped Tuareg farmer told her. "A shepherd was killed. A 70-year-old imam was shot in the head. We can't go back."

Another Tuareg refugee told Langlois that he and others get along well with other Malian ethnic groups in Burkina Faso, but the Malian army and the jihadists back home scare him.

"When two elephants fight, the first victim is the grass they crush. We are that crushed grass," he said.