The U.N. refugee agency is appealing for $186 million to protect and assist hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been forced to flee from escalating, increasingly brutal attacks from multiple armed groups in the volatile central Sahel region.
The agency reports attacks by Islamist extremists and criminal gangs in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have crippled life in the border towns and areas, and forced people to flee their homes multiple times.
The agency reports more than 3 million, including 831,000 refugees, are displaced in the region, making the Sahel one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world. UNHCR spokesman, Babar Baloch told VOA the continuing, indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians are unfathomable.
“These horrible accounts or incidents include summary executions, the widespread use of rape against women, and attacks against state institutions, including public infrastructure like schools and health facilities …,” Baloch said. “This is a very troubling and tragic trend that we have seen unfolding in the Sahel region. It is very difficult to understand it.”
Baloch said displaced families live in overcrowded sites where access to basic services is minimal. He said many people arrive in impoverished communities without any belongings. He said they are welcomed by local people, who themselves live hand-to-mouth. In addition, he said escalating insecurity is hampering the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Baloch said money from the appeal is a critical lifeline for all these people on the run and for the communities hosting them.
“If we do not get enough support, the consequences on the ground for these people in terms of basic needs — food, water, shelter would be disastrous,” Baloch said. “But also, the added element of COVID makes it more important to bring all the relief to the desert area.”
Baloch said 3.1 million people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania are in desperate need of humanitarian support. For them, he said international aid is a matter of life and death.