GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency is calling for an investigation into a violent attack against Malian refugees on May 2 by Burkina Faso security forces, which left dozens injured, many seriously.
Security forces reportedly burst into the Mentao refugee camp a day after Burkina Faso soldiers came under fire by one of the many armed groups operating in the region. One soldier reportedly was killed, and another has gone missing.
U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch tells VOA security forces barged into the camp looking for so-called armed elements whom they blamed for the attack, which occurred on a nearby highway.
“So, they went into this refugee camp asking men and boys to come out and beating them, mistreating them," he said. "We have more than 32 refugees in the hospital right now being taken care of. So, this is what we are condemning, this violence. And, we are asking the authorities, one to investigate and the other to protect the refugees.”
There has been no response from the Burkina Faso government.
Mentao camp is close to Burkina Faso’s border with Mali in the volatile Sahel region. It houses some 6,500 refugees, most of them women and children.
Witnesses have told UNHCR staff that refugees accused of complicity with the unidentified gunmen were given an ultimatum to leave the camp within 72 hours or face death.
Baloch says the refugees are living in fear of their lives. He says the UNHCR is reiterating its appeal to the government of Burkina Faso to let its staff move the refugees to a safer location.
“UNHCR was forced by insecurity to relocate our staff in November 2019 and since then our access to the location has been really sporadic. That is one reason we are urging the authorities to help us relocate, to move these refugees to a safer place where we can help them better,” he said.
Baloch says the situation in the camp is untenable. He says the refugees are living in dire conditions. He also notes that insecurity has forced schools, the health center and security post in the camp to close.