Displaced Burkinabes and Confused Malian Refugees In Burkina Faso

Sarah Namondo

The Republic of Burkina Faso is home to one of Africa’s iconic revolutionists – former President Thomas Sankara. Since his death, Burkinabes have experienced consistent political instability, said to be the reason for the rise and untamed activities of armed groups within the nation. Similar to several other landlocked African countries, Burkina Faso has been battling measures to stop Islamist attacks for decades.

In late January 2020, three Islamist attacks left at least ninety civilians killed. Human Rights Watch reports that these incidents prompted the government to create a new militia force. This decision raises future concerns for the people in Rofénèga, Nagraogo, and Silgadji villages who have been left in the dust to grieve their losses. The Islamist armed groups have been linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel (ISGS) and are predicted to have left 775,000 people to be displaced due to violence by March 2020.

This devastating situation has caused a spike in the numbers of internally displaced Burkinabes to 780,000, reports the UNHCR. More than 2,035 citizens have fled to Mali whilst 25,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso are contemplating returning home. 

The geometric rise of displaced peoples and overall poltical instability is leaving the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to continue to reiterate the importance of civilian protection and humanitarian assistance. The violence disproportionaly affects rural camps and villages who no longer have access to markets or schools. Few people have opportunities for any sort of economic activity that support their families. As a result, 70% of the 8,781 refugees living in Goudoubo have chosen to voluntarily leave the camp, either to return to Mali (57%) or to be relocated to other towns in Burkina Faso (13%). UNHCR in Mali is working to support newly arrived refugees from Burkina Faso who fled to Koro in Bankass circle near Mopti.

The unexpected and large scale migration is causing unimaginable damage to the mental, physical and emotional health of refugees, with children and youth being increasingly vulnerable to negative repurcussions. Now is the best time for members of the European Union to support efforts to address growing tensions between ethnic communities, improve efforts to hold those responsible for serious crimes accountable, and protect civilians at risk. This includes Burkinabe commanders responsible for war crimes and human rights abuses.

Military weapons should not be transferred to militia groups or used against civilians. Human Rights Watch said “arming civilians without adequate training or government control is a recipe for increased abuses and intercommunal conflict. Instead of countering communal tension, the Burkina Faso government risks exacerbating the problem by creating militias that could well turn their guns against other civilians”. Some policies have to be adjusted to curb the abuse. The government and its allies need to adopt different strategies and methods for peace maintenance.