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Armed Violence Displaces More Than 1 Million in Burkina Faso

Children of 6,000 ethnic Fulanis who have been displaced by attacks gather in a makeshift camp in Youba, Burkina Faso, April 20, 2020. The West African nation continues to be wracked by violence linked to Islamic extremists and local defense militias.

The U.N. refugee agency reports the number of internally displaced people in Burkina Faso now has topped 1 million, with more than 450,000 people, newly displaced this year.

This is an astonishing increase since January 2019, when the number of internally displaced people in Burkina Faso stood at 87,000. The U.N. refugee agency calculates one in 20 people, or 5 percent of the country’s entire population, is now displaced — making this West African country the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian and protection crisis.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said most of the displaced have fled the northern and eastern regions of the country. Surging attacks by jihadist and various militia groups, he said, have forced many people to flee multiple times.

“Host populations are at a breaking point as they share the little resources they have, while also facing themselves poverty, strained health services and rapidly disappearing livelihoods. For people who have fled wars, persecutions and for the communities hosting them, the additional impact of COVID is devastating,” he said.

The World Health Organization reports 1,240 cases of coronavirus, including 54 deaths. Baloch said the spread of COVID throughout the country is of concern. But he told VOA that luckily there has not been any large-scale outbreak of the disease in the displaced communities.

He said UNHCR staff has been working closely with the local communities to promote and maintain health and sanitation facilities wherever possible to keep the pandemic at bay. However, he added the huge number of displaced in Burkina Faso and in the Sahel is worrying.

“Also, the remoteness of the locations and also the cycles of violence that has produced and displaced people many times, it really makes it a challenge for us to keep up,” Baloch.

Baloch says people are in desperate need of shelter, food, water, protection and health care. He said education is another priority, noting more than 2,500 schools affecting nearly 350,000 students have been forced to close after being targeted by armed men.