UNHCR in the Sahel: “We must act now before it is too late”

Malian refugee women waiting for dignity kits to be distributed, Goudoubo camp, Burkina Faso Malian refugee women waiting for dignity kits to be distributed, Goudoubo camp, Burkina Faso UNHCR/Sylvain Cherkaoui

12 June 2020

Escalating violence urged UNHCR to launch its Sahel Crisis Appeal, highlighting the dire conditions faced by refugees, IDPs and host communities

Prior to the official appeal, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a press release, expressing the agency’s concerns over the alarming escalation of violence against civilians in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Following recent attacks, more and more people are seeking shelter in neighbouring areas, which are suffering as well from increased insecurity and extreme poverty. Host communities themselves, warns UNHCR, urgently need assistance to survive, especially now that humanitarian operations are limited due to security concerns and COVID-19 restrictions.

In the last two weeks, an appalling number of civilians have lost their lives throughout the region. In Burkina Faso, at least 50 people were killed in three different attacks, allegedly carried out by armed groups between Friday, May 29 and Saturday 30. In Niger, 50 armed men stormed Intikane refugee camp, devastating the site and killing three community leaders. As a consequence, according to UNHCR, more than 10,000 people have fled the camp, which hosted around 20,000 Malian refugees and 15,000 internally displaced Nigeriens. In Mali, during the first week of June, armed men in military uniforms ravaged the villages of Binedama and Niangassadiou, burning down houses and killing 43 civilians, including women and children. As reported by local leaders, the victims were all members of the Fulani (or Peul) community. After accusations were made against the Malian army, suspected of carrying out both attacks, the government announced an investigation. The events of Binedama and Niangassadiou were also referred to by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, who expressed his concerns addressing the United Nations Security Council, on Thursday, June 11.

Escalating violence across the region has fuelled one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world, argues UNHCR. Flows of refugees seek shelter throughout the Liptako-Gourma, border triangle between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. As recorded by UNHCR, in Burkina Faso alone, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) increased from 560,000 in early February to 848,000 at the end of April 2020. Millicent Mutuli, UNHCR’s director for West and Central Africa, said the agency is “racing against time” to scale up its response as “new needs [are] growing faster than available resources”. On Friday, June 12, the UNHCR launched a US$168 million appeal for the Sahel: the additional funds would allow the United Nations agency to provide immediate assistance to refugees and IDPs, supporting education and implementing COVID-19 prevention and response measures. Moreover, through this appeal, the agency would be able to support governments in providing protection and finding solutions for 3.1 million people at risk of statelessness throughout the region. Launching the Sahel Crisis Appeal in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stressed the imperative to “act now before it is too late”, as COVID-19 is exacerbating the conflict, which is threatening to spill over into neighbouring coastal countries.


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Author: Ester Zangrandi

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