FILE - A woman walks at the Goudebo refugee camp for Malian refugees in Dori, Burkina Faso, Feb. 3, 2020.
FILE - A woman walks at the Goudebo refugee camp for Malian refugees in Dori, Burkina Faso, Feb. 3, 2020. More than 8 000 Malian refugees live in in the Goudebo refugee camp.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. refugee agency says improved security has allowed 3,000 refugees from conflict-ridden Mali return to a camp in Burkina Faso they abandoned nine months ago following attacks by armed extremists. 

Some 9,000 Malians in Burkina Faso’s Goudoubo refugee camp fled in terror when they came under fire by armed extremists in March.  About 5,000 made the difficult decision to return to Mali, a country still in turmoil.  The U.N. refugee agency assisted them upon arrival.

Many of the remaining refugees fled to the nearby town of Dori, where they have been living under dire conditions. UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo told VOA that national authorities have reinforced security in and around Goudoubo, making it possible for the refugees to return to the camp.

“For the 3,000 that have returned back to the camps, they were relocated in 31 convoys in buses and trucks to the camp.  So, another 150 refugees arrived on their own in motorcycles and in tricycle taxis.  And, others moved on foot, accompanying their cattle,” she said.

Mantoo said another 2,100 refugees are expected to move back to Goudoubo from the Mentao camp this month.  She said the Malians will have better access to services in the camp.  She said 1,500 new shelters have been built, health clinics have been refurbished, schools are welcoming students and returning refugees have begun reopening small businesses.

“But despite the welcome relocations, we are continuing to warn that attacks by armed groups in the Sahel will lead to further displacement in the region that is already hosting 2 million IDPs and hundreds of thousands of refugees.  Across the Sahel, refugees and internally displaced people and their hosts are subjected to brutal violence, rape, execution.  It is really horrible and now the pandemic is adding a new layer of hardships,” said Mantoo.

Burkina Faso is at the epicenter of one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement and protection crises.  The UNHCR says more than one million people in the country are internally displaced and more than 20,000 Malians have taken refuge there.