GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency says escalating violence in Burkina Faso is forcing thousands to flee their homes and prompting an increasing number of refugees from Mali to return to their home country.
Attacks by extremists linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida terror groups and violent action by traffickers and criminal gangs are adding to the instability of the already beleaguered African country.
The United Nations refugee agency reports some 14,000 people have fled their homes in Burkina Faso in the last 17 days, bringing the total number of people displaced within the country to 780,000.
During the same period, it says more than 2,000 people have fled as refugees to neighboring Mali. UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said a worrying number of Malian refugees are also choosing to return to their home country, believing it is safer there than in Burkina Faso.
"The insecurity also makes life much harder for Malian refugees who had sought protection in Burkina Faso, and it threatens to bring to a halt efforts to help them rebuild their lives," Baloch said. "Burkina Faso hosts over 25,000 refugees from Mali, but many are choosing to return despite facing insecurity."
Baloch said nearly 700 Malian refugees have left by truck toward the Gao Region in northern Mali. Refugees who want to return are given a document that enables them to travel, he said, adding that they also receive a one-time payment to cover transportation costs and urgently needed items.
The UNHCR is strengthening its presence in Mali to deal with the increasing number of refugees from Burkina Faso and returning refugees of Malian origin, Baloch said, with UNHCR staff and local authorities in Mali registering the new arrivals and providing them with essential needs.