YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Armed conflict in Africa’s Central Sahel region has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency said.
At a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR spokesperson called for concerted international action to support the countries of the Central Sahel to bring about the urgently needed peace, stability, and development to the region.
Internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late 2021.
The number of refugees in the Central Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, now stands at 410,000. The majority of the region’s refugees fled violence in Mali where the conflict began in January 2012, according to the UNHCR.
A surge in violent attacks across the region in 2021 displaced nearly 500,000 people, with figures for December still pending.
Armed groups reportedly carried out more than 800 deadly attacks last year, the UN official said.
Such violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighboring country.
In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of IDPs rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of 2021. Six in ten of the Sahel’s IDPs are now Burkinabe.
In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua increased 53% in the last 12 months.
In neighboring Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced inside the country – a 30 % increase from the previous year.
-Crises on multiple fronts
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger is rapidly deteriorating amid crises on multiple fronts.
Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the worsening effects of the climate crisis with temperatures in the region rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.
Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.
The UNHCR said it continues to coordinate with authorities and other partners to ensure the most effective humanitarian response to meet the needs of the Sahel’s refugees, IDPs, and host communities, despite myriad challenges.