Burkina Faso on Friday suspended the Norwegian Refugee Council from conducting humanitarian aid work in the country, citing critical interviews given to the media, including VOA.
In a letter from Helene Marie Laurence Ilboudo-Marchal, minister for humanitarian affairs, the government cited interviews that NRC representatives had carried out with Voice of America and the French newspaper Le Monde as its reason for suspending the group’s activities.
The NRC said in a statement Friday that it was “working in dialogue with the government to address any concerns they may have in order to resume respectful and collaborative relations, and our humanitarian work.”
The NRC’s earlier interviews included claims that the government has been slow to register internally displaced people, citing a group of about 500 IDPs in the city of Ouahigouya who they said had been waiting weeks for registration and had not received aid.
The NRC also made a plea to the government to allow it to step in and assist with registration.
In an exclusive interview with VOA this week, Bakouan Yipene Florent, a spokesperson for the ministry of humanitarian affairs, rejected the claims that the IDPs in Ouahigouya had not received aid.
He said that going back to the point of IDP registration, as soon as they arrived at the site in Ouahigouya on June 12, a team was deployed immediately and handled the enumeration process.
Florent noted that IDPs are registered only after they have been officially counted and some initial aid is provided, including food and $100 for each family.
He said the government had put in place a two-month plan for assistance for the group of IDPs.
When there’s an influx of IDPs, Florent said, they can't be registered because traumatized people can't immediately answer necessary questions. When the first assistance ends and there has been psychological support, registration can proceed, he said.
Conflict with extremists, bandits
There are 1.3 million IDPs in Burkina Faso, which has been embroiled in a six-year conflict with armed groups linked to Islamic State, al-Qaida and local bandits. The U.N. has called it the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crisis.
Refugee advocacy groups have criticized the government recently because of a ban it placed on journalists visiting official IDP sites. The government said the ban was aimed at protecting the dignity of IDPs and the safety of journalists.
Daouda Diallo, of the Collective Against Impunity and the Stigmatization of Communities, a Burkinabe human rights group, criticized the suspension of the NRC in an interview with VOA. He said the decision showed a disregard for the fate of civilian populations that benefit from the NGO's work.
The letter from the humanitarian minister said the country was doing its best to assist IDPs under difficult circumstances.