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Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced

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A spike in violent attacks across the region in 2021 displaced nearly 500,000 people, with December figures still pending.

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 14, 2022/APO Group/ —

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, calls for concerted international action to end the armed conflict in the central Sahel region of Africa, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.

Internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million at the end of 2021. The number of refugees in central Sahel countries Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger now stands at 410,000. Most of the region’s refugees fled violence in Mali, where the conflict began in January 2012.

A spike in violent attacks across the region in 2021 displaced nearly 500,000 people, with December figures still pending.

Armed groups reportedly carried out more than 800 deadly attacks last year, according to partner estimates. Such violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced another 36,000 to flee to 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 out of ten IDPs from the Sahel are now Burkinabe.

In Niger, the number of internally displaced persons in the Tillabéri and Tahoua regions increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In neighboring Mali, more than 400,000 people are internally displaced, 30 percent more than the previous year.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger is rapidly deteriorating amid crises on multiple fronts. Insecurity is the main factor, 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 most affected and are disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.

Host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in hosting displaced families, despite their meager resources. Government authorities have shown an unwavering commitment to help the displaced, but are bowing to mounting pressure.

UNHCR and its humanitarian partners face increasing challenges in accessing people in need and providing life-saving assistance and protection. Aid workers continue to face roadside attacks, ambushes and carjackings.

UNHCR calls on the international community to take bold steps and spare no effort to support the countries of the Central Sahel to achieve urgently needed peace, stability and development in the region.

In response to the ongoing crisis, UNHCR is leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and provide vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.

UNHCR continues to coordinate with the authorities and other partners to ensure the most effective humanitarian response to meet the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and host communities in the Sahel, despite myriad challenges.

With resources dangerously overstretched, UNHCR is urging more support to help save lives and address vulnerabilities. In 2021, more than a third of UNHCR’s funding needs in the Central Sahel remained unmet. To mount an effective response in 2022 in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, UNHCR needs $307 million.

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