Increased militant attacks in Burkina Faso spark record-breaking displacement: UNHCR

July 23, 2021
Some 11,000 refugees live in the Goudoubo Refugee Camp in Burkina Faso. — Courtesy file photo
Some 11,000 refugees live in the Goudoubo Refugee Camp in Burkina Faso. — Courtesy file photo

OUAGADOUGOU — Rising violent attacks by militant groups in Burkina Faso are forcing record-breaking numbers of people to flee both inside the country and across international borders, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported on Friday.

Six percent of the population in the West African country is now internally displaced, with more than 1.3 million people uprooted in just over six weeks, according to the latest government figures.

No slowing down

The speed of internal displacement shows no sign of slowing as attacks on civilians and security forces continue unabated, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva.

During the first six months of the year, 237,000 people fled their homes to other parts of the country, which is a sharp increase over the 96,000 registered during the second half of 2020.

“UNHCR is equally alarmed by an acceleration in the numbers of people from Burkina Faso forced to cross a border to reach safety,” said Baloch.

“Since January, more than 17,500 people have fled to neighboring countries, nearly doubling the total number of refugees from the country in just six months. There are now 38,000 Burkinabè refugees and asylum seekers across the region.”

A worrying trend

Around 11,000 Burkinabè asylum seekers are in neighboring Niger, up from 7,400 at the start of the year. Together with the authorities, UNHCR and partners are providing food, shelter, relief items and care, however, violence and insecurity continue to hamper humanitarian access.

Some 900 asylum seekers arrived in the country last month from the northeastern village of Solhan, after fleeing an assault in which 130 people were killed. This incident was the deadliest attack in Burkina Faso since 2015.

Mali is also hosting 20,000 Burkinabè asylum seekers, with 6,600 people arriving in the Timbuktu region this year alone. As humanitarian access there is limited due to security conditions, UNHCR believes the number could be higher.

The agency also recently registered 179 asylum seekers in northern Benin, but thousands more are reportedly located in border areas inaccessible to humanitarians due to insecurity.

“Continuing this worrying trend, Côte d’Ivoire received its first Burkinabè asylum seekers in May when some 430 people arrived seeking safety,” said Mr. Baloch.

Appeal for action

UNHCR has appealed for concerted action towards peace and stability in Burkina Faso and neighboring Central Sahel countries, Mali and Niger, which are also experiencing a sharp rise in violence and displacement.

The agency is seeking $259.3 million for operations in the region this year, but so far only half the funds have been received.

July 23, 2021
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