In this photo taken on Tuesday Dec. 10, 2019 a displaced Burkinabe woman and child prepare food, in the Pissila town camp, near…
FILE - In this photo taken on Dec. 10, 2019 a displaced Burkinabe woman and child prepare food, in the Pissila town camp, near Kaya, Burkina Faso.

GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports escalating violence in Burkina Faso is driving thousands of Malian refugees to leave their camps and return to the war-torn homes they fled in search of safety.     

The United Nations reports violence in Burkina Faso has forcibly displaced more than 838,000 from their homes since January 2019.  The UN refugee agency reports the escalating militant attacks also are affecting some 25,000 Malian refugees living in remote camps near the border separating the two countries.   

UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch tells VOA most of the refugees are choosing to return home because of the growing violence in Burkina Faso, judging it to be the lesser of two evils.   

“Mali is not secure as well and many of the returning refugees cannot return to their places of origin.  This was a hard decision for them to return back and this decision is linked with the insecurity inside Burkina Faso,”  he said.   

Baloch says the Goudoubo refugee camp in Burkina Faso is essentially empty following attacks and ultimatums by armed groups.  He says this prompted some 9,000 Malians who lived there to flee for their lives.     

“About half of the residents, who reached Gao, Mopti and Timbuktu regions in Mali, cited insecurity and armed attacks as the reason to leave and felt they had no other option but to return.  They arrived in Mali panicked, many with horror stories and arriving on rented trucks or camel backs with their families,”  he said.

Baloch says UNHCR is working with the Malian authorities to register the returning refugees.  He says they are providing the returnees with shelter, relief items and cash to support their immediate needs.     

He says the returnees also are receiving health and hygiene equipment as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.