RESPONDING TO THE URGENT NEEDS OF REFUGEES, INTERNALLY DISPLACED, RETURNEES AND OTHERS OF CONCERN
The Sahel region continues to face a severe humanitarian and protection crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and major flooding across the region. To address the significant needs of displaced populations and their hosts, UNHCR scaled its emergency response, in coordination with the Governments of the region as well as key humanitarian and development actors.
Widespread and indiscriminate violence by armed groups have intensified since the beginning of 2020 whilst social and political tensions are rising, forcing more people to flee across the region. In Burkina Faso, the number of internally displaced persons has reached over 1,000,000 in August 2020 while internal displacement doubled in Niger since the beginning of the year. In Mali, internal displacement continues to increase while the deterioration of the security in neighbouring countries pushed over 6,000 Malian refugees return to their country of origin in 2020. As of 30 September 2020, a total of 3,530,175 persons have been displaced across the region, exacerbating pressure on the already limited natural resources and social services in the new hosting areas. This volatile context allowed armed groups to expand their range of operations southwards with a growing impact on coastal countries.
Along with this increase in violence, the Sahel has seen a growing number of fatal incidents due to landmines, unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices (IED) in 2020. Often living in the most conflict-affected areas, refugees and IDPs are particularly exposed to this risk. In a recent incident in a refugee camp in eastern Chad, on 24 June 2020, four refugee children from ages 9 -12 were killed and three others seriously injured when they picked up an unexploded device and tried to open it. In Burkina Faso, on 6 June 2020, a vehicle carrying two refugees hit an IED near Mentao refugee camp. Both were evacuated to Djibo, where they received treatment for their injuries. In Niger, five incidents have killed at least five refugees and displaced people while injuring many others since the start of the year. In Mali, the civilian population accounts for almost half of the victims of landmines and improvised device explosions in the entire country. At least 42 civilians were killed in 82 incidents between January and May this year, mainly in the Mopti, Gao and Kidal regions. In addition to the high death toll, injuries and their after-effects, including psychological damage, the presence of explosive devices hinders the delivery of humanitarian aid and development activities.
In addition to this dire security situation, the Sahel is seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, and other climate-related hazards. These extreme weather events represent an additional challenge for governments already grappling with endemic poverty, and chronic vulnerabilities, critically compounded by the COVID19 pandemic which has weighed heavily on already weak and depleted national health systems across the region. Since August, the region has recently experienced torrential rains for the past two months, causing devastating floods across large swathes of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.
This has impacted over 700,000 people, among them thousands of displaced persons, destroying homes, health centres and farmland and aggravates the lack of access to clean and renewable energy sources to meet basic needs for light, water and cooking fuel.
As living conditions further degrade and livelihoods opportunities disappear, this dramatic situation is likely to generate increasing displacement of populations within the region and possibly southward to some of the Coastal countries and northward to North Africa and Europe.
In this extremely difficult context, UNHCR has scaled up its emergency response in line with the strategy laid out in its Appeal issued in June 2020. Focusing on shelter interventions, distribution of core relief items, prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence, education and the environment, UNHCR has also increased its support to national health systems to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to mitigate the spread of the virus in highly vulnerable communities.
To mobilize financial and technical support from all relevant stakeholders and ensure the humanitarian response is complemented by more long-term development and peacebuilding interventions to address the deep-seated and intertwined root causes of the Sahel conflict, UNHCR is closely engaging and coordinating with the governments of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and all relevant actors in the region. To facilitate and structure this cooperation, the five governments have established -with UNHCR support- the Bamako Process, an intergovernmental process to implement the conclusions of the Bamako Declaration.
Officially launched on 12 October 2020, the Bamako Process will focus on five areas of interventions including:
1) Humanitarian access and civil-military coordination
2) Protection in the context of the UN framework for the prevention of violent extremism
3) Access to asylum in the context of mass influx and mixed movements
4) Solutions for refugees, IDPs and other civilian population
5) Access to civil registration, identity document and nationality.