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UN: Insecurity, Violence in Burkina Faso Spur Refugee Exodus

FILE - People gather in support of a coup that ousted President Roch Kabore, dissolved government, suspended the constitution and closed borders in Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, Jan. 25, 2022.
Increasing violence and insecurity in Burkina Faso are spurring refugees to flee into neighboring countries, adding to political and humanitarian crises in the Sahel region.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says some 19,200 Burkinabe fled last year to neighboring Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, and Benin. This was a 50% increase from the previous year.

The agency says the number of Burkinabe living in exile across the region has nearly doubled to more than 34,000. Among them are 7,000 refugees who have arrived in northwestern Ivory Coast, or Cote d’Ivoire, since May.

UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says vicious attacks by armed groups, mainly in the region bordering Ivory Coast, are driving more people to flee across the border.

“The influx has accelerated in the past six weeks—though it is not linked to the recent military coup in the country—with an average of 100 people daily recently crossing the border, according to local authorities," Cheshirkov said. "We have registered and have been providing assistance to over 4,000 of them already.”

The increasing refugee movement is putting enormous strain on the fragile Sahel region. The Central Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, is plagued by political instability, widespread violence, food shortages, and a climate crisis.

Cheshirkov says this region of 20 million people cannot manage and support rapidly growing populations. He warns intercommunal conflicts over scarce resources are worsening.

“The plight of Burkinabe refugees is becoming increasingly precarious as more people arrive in Cote d’Ivoire without personal belongings or food," Cheshirkov said. "They told UNHCR staff that civilians had been killed and their homes burnt down by extremists. They are being hosted by Ivorian villagers in crowded conditions.”

On top of the burgeoning refugee crisis, the UNHCR reports Burkina Faso also is facing a crisis of internal displacement. It says increasing violence by armed groups has forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes.