Burkina Faso, a nation of 20 million in West Africa and one of the least developed in the world, is facing a staggering humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of its citizens flee violence. As a result of the rapidly increasing population and the ravages of the climate crisis have also increased the level of a long standing conflict between agrarian and pastoralist groups.Despite efforts by the Government and international military, the violence continues to escalate. The local population faces endemic criminality and ferocious competition for access to natural resources. The state is felt to be either absent or predatory, and its judicial system ineffective.
The speed and scale of Burkina Faso’s crisis have shocked observers. In recent years, extremist violence has wracked Libya, Mali and Northern Nigeria but Burkina Faso along with its neighbour Niger have remained largely immune. Once viewed as a buffer of stability, that is quickly changing. The violence, which finally spilled over into Burkina Faso in 2019.
The UN Refugee Agency Report
UNHCR stated in a statement on Friday, that over 700,000 people were displaced in the past 12 months, with an estimated 150,000 of them being uprooted in the last three weeks alone.
In Burkina Faso over 4,000 people are being forced to flee their homes daily as attacks on civilians increases by armed groups. This has increased by 16-fold compared to January 2019. An estimated 150,000 people have fled in the last three weeks alone.
Alarmed by the dramatic rise of forced displacement in the Sahel, reiterates UNHCR call for the protection of civilian populations and those fleeing violence, the United Nations warned.
The organisation is facing severe challenges in accessing and responding to the needs of the internally displaced people and refugees scattered throughout the Sahel region, as attacks against civilians grow in number and frequency, the UN Refugee Agency said.
Throughout the region, survivors of the attacks, are forced to flee within their country and refugees are in need of safety, shelter, food and water. Clothing and other basic items, including dignity kits for for women and girls, are also urgently needed, the report stated.
More than 4,400 refugees from Niger have arrived in Mali, fleeing recent string of attacks in Tillaberi and Tahoua regions, including an attack in early January in the town of Chinagodar. Refugees have found safety in the Malian towns of Andéramboukane and Ménaka. They have joined another 7,700 displaced Malians in the same area. More people continue to cross the border between Niger and Mali.
In Niger, over 11,000 fled unsafe border areas and found refuge in several towns further south, where assistance is being provided. The regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua currently host 58,000 refugees from Mali and 82,000 internally displaced, according to the report.
The report further discloses that, following the latest attack against the village of Ogossagou northern Mali, on 14 February, where 30 inhabitants were killed, the population is scared and eager to flee to a safer place. Before the attack, people from neighbouring villages had already found shelter in Ogossagou, despite the village having been attacked in March last year and 160 of its inhabitants massacred, the UN Refugee Agency noted.
In addition fleeing Mali’s central region of Segou and Niono, 1,000 Malians refugees crossed into Mauritania in the past ten days, a noticeable increase from the weekly average of fifty refugees who usually originate from Northern Mali.
Ending the conflict
The recent attacks have targeted religious leaders in the area in the past. Last week, also in Yagha province, a retired pastor was killed and another pastor was abducted by gunmen, according to an internal security report for aid workers.
The response requires more than military offensives by the government and partners. A definitive resolution of the crisis hinges in part on the situation in Mali.
However, their approach needs to better take account of the local and social roots of the crisis, which are more profound than its religious and security dimensions:
- To place greater emphasis in the Sahel region emergency programme the development component of the government’s response on promoting herding, improving justice provision and fighting corruption.
- To reduce the gulf between security forces and authorities and the local population.
- To formulate responses that take into account the social and local dimensions of the crisis.
- To work toward strengthening, in the long term, judicial and police cooperation between Mali and Burkina Faso.