Ongoing violence in Burkina Faso has led to the displacement of close to half a million people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Andrew Mbogori said the humanitarian crisis in the West African country has forced around 486,000 citizens in total to flee the central and northern regions of the country.
Some 267,000 of these people — who are internally displaced, meaning that they’ve stayed in the country — have fled their homes in the last three months alone.
Meanwhile, a further 16,000 people have become refugees in neighbouring countries, said Mbogori, who also warned that even more people will be displaced or become refugees in neighbouring West Africa countries if the violence continues.
“The escalating armed violence is causing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency in the Sahel,” Mbogori said.
“While visiting Kaya, northeast of Ouagadougou, and Barsalogho, in the central Sanmatenga province, [UNHCR] witnessed firsthand the dramatic impact of these tragic events on the affected population,” he added.
Mbogori explained that, currently, all of Burkina Faso’s 13 regions host people fleeing violence.
The Centre-Nord region hosts the largest number of displaced people — more than 196,000 in Sanmatenga province alone — followed by the Sahel region, with 133,000 in Soum province.
“People we met had endured horrifying and traumatic events, with reports of more than 500 being killed in 472 attacks and counter-military operations since last year,” he continued.
“We heard reports that basic services such as healthcare and education, as well as freedom of movement, have been severely affected by the attacks and by generalised insecurity.”
He added that an estimated 1.5 million people are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including food, water, shelter, and healthcare.
“One thing was absolutely clear. Humanitarian needs are rising fast as conflict and insecurity continues to devastate hundreds of thousands of lives. Hosting communities are already impoverished, living on margins themselves,” Mbogori said.
There has been an increase in armed attacks in some regions of Niger, Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, north of Nigeria, parts of Cameroon and Central African Republic, central Chad, central and southern Sudan — which are known collectively as the Sahel region.
The northern and central regions of Burkina Faso have been experiencing violence and armed conflict since 2015. It has been blamed on armed jihadists who have been linked to al-Qaida and regional Islamic State groups, Macina Liberation Front, Ansaroul Islam, and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
The growing violence in Burkina Faso has left at least 1.2 million people in need of humanitarian help. Meanwhile, 2,000 schools in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are closed; stopping at least 400,000 children from going to school.
“Overall, 5.4 million people in the affected regions need urgent assistance,” said Mbogori. “We need urgent resources to launch a coordinated humanitarian response – an immediate necessity to save lives."