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Violence in Burkina Faso forces Malian refugees to return home

Malian woman in Burkina Faso walks past a straw hut carrying a child

Fatima holds her baby among fellow Malian refugees in Goudoubo camp, Burkina Faso as they wait for dignity kits to be distributed. © UNHCR/Sylvain Cherkaoui

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch  to whom quoted text may be attributed  at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Insecurity in Burkina Faso is forcing an ever-growing number to flee their homes. They are searching for safety in the country or fleeing to Mali as refugees. At the same time, a worrying number of Malian refugees say it is safer to return to their home country rather than remain in Burkina Faso.

Some 14,000 people have fled their homes in Burkina Faso in just 17 days, bringing the total internally displaced to 780,000. Recent violence has also forced more than 2,035 people to flee to neighbouring Mali.

The insecurity also makes life much harder for Malian refugees who had sought protection in Burkina Faso and it threatens to bring to a halt efforts to help them rebuild their lives. Burkina Faso hosts over 25,000 refugees from Mali but many are choosing to return despite facing insecurity there.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, remains alarmed by the dramatic rise of forced displacement in the Sahel and reiterates its call for the protection of civilian populations and those fleeing violence. Humanitarians need safe access to deliver assistance. Our scaled-up response to the crisis is centered around providing protection and emergency supplies to those forced to flee and communities hosting them, with a particular focus on shelter, education, sexual and gender-based violence while limiting the impact on nature.

In November last year, UNHCR was forced to temporarily relocate its staff from Djibo, a town in the north-east of the country. The distribution of aid, including food, to Mentao camp’s 7,000 refugees has been sporadic since then.

There have been worrying incidents of violence this month around Dori, also in the north-east. Camps and villages have been targeted. The people there can no longer access markets or schools and there have been few opportunities for activities that support their families. Health is also at risk, as the sole ambulance in the camp was stolen earlier this month. Some 70 per cent of the 8,781 refugees living in Goudoubo have chosen to voluntarily leave the camp, either to return to Mali (57 per cent) or to be relocated to other towns in Burkina Faso (13 per cent).

Nearly 700 Malian refugees have already left by truck heading towards Gao region in northern Mali. Refugees who want to return are provided with a Voluntary Repatriation Form (VRF), a document that enables them to travel, and receive a one-time payment to cover the transport costs and some of the items they need most urgently. They are also fully informed of the volatile security situation in their places of origin or an alternative area of their choice, before they choose voluntarily to return. Neither humanitarian actors nor the Malian defense forces can access some of the villages in Ntilit and Ngossi.

In Mali, as the first returns are arriving, we are strengthening our presence, together with our partners, in N’tillit, Gossi, Gao and Timbuktu areas. 28 registration points have been identified to monitor the situation in entry points and reception areas. Once they are registered, returnees will receive cash assistance to facilitate their reintegration in dignity through reducing their vulnerability.

While Malian refugees are fleeing insecurity from Burkina Faso, newly arrived refugees from Burkina Faso have fled to Koro, in Bankass circle near Mopti. Our teams are on the ground with local authorities, to register them and assess their need to provide a rapid response.

 

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Originally published by UNHCR on 13 March 2020