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Thousands Flee as Extremists Go on Rampage in Northeast Burkina Faso

FILE - A displaced boy, who fled with others from his village in northern Burkina Faso following attacks by assailants, is pictured at a school on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, June 15, 2019.

The U.N. refugee agency is calling for greater protection for thousands of people fleeing escalating violence in northeastern Burkina Faso. It says the lack of security is hampering humanitarian agencies’ efforts to reach those in desperate need of aid.

Nearly a half-million people are internally displaced in Burkina Faso, and the recent surge of violence is sending thousands more fleeing for their lives. U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch warned Friday that the number of displaced could reach 650,000 by year’s end if militant attacks on civilians do not end.

Those fleeing say attackers “often forcibly recruit male residents at gunpoint, killing those who resist,” Baloch said. “Militants also stole cattle and other possessions from the communities."

Fleeing with nothing

Baloch said terrified residents flee, leaving everything behind. He said many have sought safety in Dori, a small town on the Mali-Niger border.

The spokesman said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has "no breakdown" on who the militants are, although numerous reports from Burkina Faso have identified the groups as suspected jihadists.

He said the UNHCR was particularly concerned about the safety of people living in the northeastern border town of Djibo, including 7,000 Malian refugees in the Mentao camp.

He said militants had slain the town's mayor, destroyed houses and disrupted daily life. He said access to the town was cut early this month after a series of militant attacks.

'Living in fear'

"Inside the Mentao camp, refugees are living in fear,” Baloch said. “All schools have been closed, and humanitarian access to the camp has become increasingly challenging, with the distribution of aid, including food, severely hindered."

The UNHCR said many displaced were sleeping in the open and were in desperate need of shelter, water and food. Because of the prevailing dangers, the agency was forced to temporarily relocate its staff from Djibo.

Baloch said the UNHCR was working remotely through partners to help the displaced, the refugees and locals — all of whom are suffering from violence and deprivation.