More than a million people have been internally displaced in Burkina Faso and the number of continues to grow as the violence rages on between Islamic extremists and local defence militia. Burkina Faso, which means ‘land of honest men’ is a former French colony that gained independence in 1960. The landlocked country in West Africa has had a turbulent history of military coups, droughts and unstable politics. Currently, Burkina Faso is experiencing unprecedented levels of terrorism, crime, kidnapping, bombing and internal displacement, however the humanitarian crisis remains largely unacknowledged in the international arena.
The extremely high rate of internal displacement in Burkina Faso is alarming. Currently, 1 in 20 people are internally displaced, approximating to 5% of the country’s population. According to UN reports, 50,000 people were displaced in late 2018. Only a year later, the number had risen to 560,000. Currently, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports that more than 1 million people have been recorded as displaced during the pandemic. The rate of displacement signifies the world’s fastest growing internal displacement crisis.
The issue of internal displacement is exacerbated with concerns of COVID–19 and as the conflict continues, the most affected are the women and children. The effects of the pandemic are not limited to safety concerns, families are struggling economically as closure of schools, businesses and governmental institutions make them more vulnerable. Moreover, the closure of borders to prevent the spread of COVID -19 has created a concentrated amount of displaced people, in which opportunities for developing a stable livelihood are limited.
The situation is seemingly dire and continues to worsen. Armed groups are reported to be actively targeting schools and health care facilities, and are also hindering the access to appropriate health care. Moreover, 16 schools were burnt to the ground in the east of the country since 27 July, thereby jeopardizing children attending school in the near future. Additionally, over one in ten people are food insecure and reports indicate at least 372,000 children under the age of five, and 88,500 pregnant or breastfeeding women and girls, are severely malnourished. Abibatou Wane, Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) commented that “the majority of displaced persons are women and children, and their needs are enormous, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The reality of life during violent conflict is harrowing. Incidents of violence reported include, a school bus hit by a roadside bomb leaving 14 people dead in January. Similarly, in that same month, armed men open fired in a market in the centre region of Burkina Faso. Manenji Mangundu, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Burkina Faso commented on the crisis revealing that “families are on the run from attacks, executions and kidnappings, children are killed and maimed by roadside bombs.” Moreover, according to Burkinabe Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation, 184 attacks against civilians have been recorded in 2020. Many families are at risk, they have left their homes and belongings to protect their lives.
Despite, the widespread violence and civilian lives affected, the international community response is inadequate. In 2019, 187 million USD was required, however only 89 million USD was raised for Burkina Faso. This year, the UN predicts 295 million USD will be required for displacement camps, food, health care supplies and additional resources to curb the extent of the damage from the armed conflict in the country.
Whilst, the nature of COVID–19 has left many countries handicapped financially, there has been action undertaken to address the crisis by other external bodies. International organizations including the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) are actively trying to aid Burkina Faso by supporting the country financially and by raising awareness. Likewise, in June, the International Organization for Migration appealed for appealed for USD 37.8 million to provide emergency assistance to 460,000 people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger due to the violence and crisis in the Central Sahel region. Therefore, there is support internationally; however, the rate and scope is limited.
The internal displacement in Burkina Faso and the subsequent issues arising from the displacement is one of the world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis of 2020. There need to be a tangible acknowledgement by African and international governments and bodies to implement strategies to assist Burkina Faso and to ensure civilian life is protected during this time.