By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Friday called for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s Central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.
In a news conference, UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov said that internal displacement had 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,” Cheshirkov said as humanitarians continue to face road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking in the region.
Most of the region’s refugees fled violence in Mali, where the conflict began in January 2012.
A surge in violent attacks across the region in 2021 displaced nearly 500,000 people, with figures for December still pending.
According to partner estimates, UNHCR said, armed groups reportedly carried out more than 800 deadly attacks last year.
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 internally displaced persons (IDPs) climbed to more than 1.5 million by the end of 2021.
In Niger, IDPs in the Tillaberi and Tahoua regions increased by 53℅ in the last 12 months.
More than 400,000 people are displaced in neighboring Mali – a 30℅ increase from the previous year, said the UN.
UNHCR said the humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger is rapidly deteriorating amid crises on multiple fronts.
- Insecurity main driver
“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,” said Cheshirkov.
“Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence,” he said.
The refugee agency and humanitarian partners said they face mounting challenges in accessing people in need and delivering lifesaving assistance and protection.
“UNHCR calls on the international community to take bold action and spare no effort in supporting the countries of the Central Sahel to bring about the urgently needed peace, stability, and development to the region,” said Cheshirkov.
For an effective response in 2022 in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali, UNHCR requires $307 million, said the refugee agency.