Grim milestone as Sahel violence displaces 2 million inside their countries

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is calling for an end to the unrelenting violence in Africa’s Sahel which has now displaced more than two million people within the borders of their countries for the first time ever.

The Sahel – which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger — is home to some of the world’s least developed countries, and the communities hosting the displaced have reached a breaking point.

Needs are surging across a region where multiple crises converge including armed conflict, extreme poverty, food insecurity, climatic changes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extreme vulnerability of the Sahel has been laid bare by the impact of forced displacement, caused by widespread and gruesome violence perpetrated by armed insurgent groups and criminal gangs.

The humanitarian response is dangerously overstretched, and UNHCR is urging the international community to redouble its support for the region. States must act now to help Sahel countries address the root causes of this forced displacement, to boost strategic and sustainable development, and to strengthen institutions such as schools and hospitals, many of which have shut due to ongoing violence. The situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Internal displacement in the region has quadrupled in just two years, as there were 490,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) at the beginning of 2019. More than half of the IDPs in the region are Burkinabé. The Sahel also hosts over 850,000 refugees, mainly from Mali.

Already this year, violence in Niger and Burkina Faso has forced more than 21,000 people to flee their homes and seek refuge within their own countries.

In Burkina Faso, since 31 December, a series of armed attacks on the town of Koumbri and nearby villages in the North of the country have displaced more than 11,000 people. Most are women and children who fled at night after attackers began shooting at their homes. They have reached safety and are now staying within local communities in Ouahigouya and Barga, some 35 kilometres away.

Despite the generosity of their hosts, many of the IDPs lack basic shelter and are sleeping under open skies. They are in urgent need of adequate shelter, water, and essential relief, as well as access to health and proper sanitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

UNHCR is erecting 108 sturdy shelters in Ouahigouya and our teams have distributed mats and blankets, hygiene materials, and other essential aid. Local authorities are accelerating efforts to register the new arrivals and relocate them to another site.

Across the region, UNHCR and its partners are working to provide critical assistance to hundreds of thousands of displaced people and their hosts, such as shelter, aid items, and cash. Our teams are also working to prevent and respond to instances of sexual violence, which have become widespread. We are rehabilitating schools and classrooms and supporting distance learning opportunities.

© The UN Refugee Agency 2021

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