Scores of Malian refugees in Burkina Faso have returned to a camp in the northeast of the country nine months after armed attacks and threats forced them to flee to a neighbouring town, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Monday.
UNHCR helped 3,000 refugees to move back to the Goudoubo camp this month after national authorities reinforced security in and around the site, with more personnel and increased patrols.
“The Malian refugees returning to Goudoubo had been asking us to move them back to the camp where most had lived since 2012. We thank the authorities for making their return to Goudoubo possible by adding security measures and their commitment to keep the camp safe,” said Ioli Kimyaci, UNHCR Representative in Burkina Faso.
“Goudoubo will offer better access to services and will make life away from home a little easier, while we look for alternatives and lasting solutions.”
Attacks and ultimatums
Some 9,000 Malian refugees were living at Goudoubo until March when armed extremists launched a series of violent attacks against the camp and issued ultimatums, causing residents to flee.
Many escaped to the nearby town of Dori, which already was grappling with dire conditions that affected shelter, clean water and health services. However, around 5,000 chose to go back to Mali, which is still in turmoil, where they received UNHCR assistance on arrival.
Most of the 3,000 Malian refugees who have returned to Goudoubo were transported from Dori in 31 convoys of buses and trucks, while 150 relocated on their own on motorcycles or in tricycle taxis. Others chose to walk, accompanying their cattle.
Schools reopen, livelihoods return
UNHCR and the National Commission for Refugees, CONAREF, have built 1,500 new shelters at the camp.
The UN agency and partners have also refurbished and restocked a health clinic, and schools are ready to welcome back students. They expect livelihoods also will return, including farming and the cultivation of pasture lands for cattle to graze.
The refugees have already begun reopening small businesses in the camp, such as grocery shops and butchers. UNHCR reports people have said the return means an end to the struggle to find shelter and access basic services.
Epicentre of a regional crisis
Overall, Burkina Faso is hosting around 20,000 Malian refugees.
A further 2,100 are expected to move back to Goudoubo this month from Mentao camp, which had been cut off for more than a year following deadly attacks that affected aid and food distribution, and forced UNHCR to cease working there.
Burkina Faso is at the “epicentre” of what the agency said is one of the fastest-growing displacement and protection crises in the world.
One million people across the Sahel – or one in 20 – are now internally displaced due to violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added a new layer of hardship to their lives, while further complicating humanitarian efforts to support them.
UNHCR warned that attacks by armed groups in the Sahel will result in further displacement in a region that is home to nearly two million internally displaced persons and hundreds of thousands of refugees.