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UNHCR West and Central Africa Update - November - December 2019

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Political and security developments

▪ Across the Sahel, November and December 2019 have seen a continuous deterioration of the security situation with rising numbers of incidents and forced displacements, especially in LiptakoGourma, where Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger share common borders. Exploiting underlying fragility factors (social tensions exacerbated by large-scale extreme poverty, rapid demographic growth or the impact of climate change), armed groups/extremists increasingly attack civilian targets such as schools and health centres, as well as state institutions or security forces. An attack in Burkina Faso on 25 December killed 42 civilians, almost all of them women, in one of the deadliest assaults to hit the country in nearly five years of violence. In Inates, near the Mali border in western Niger, 71 soldiers were killed and 12 wounded on 10 December. In Mali, 49 soldiers and one civilian died in an attack on a Malian armed forces camp in Ménaka on 1 November and, on 25 November, 13 French soldiers lost their lives during combat operations near Gao in one of the French forces deadliest incidents in decades. In this challenging context, France’s president Marcon has invited his counterparts from each G5 Sahel countries to meet on January 13 in Pau, southwestern France, to lay the groundwork for increased international support.

▪ In Burkina Faso, the armed conflict continues to spread and intensify across the country, reaching unprecedented levels of violence despite the strengthened military presence. On 3 November, the Mayor of Djibo (Soum province of the Sahel) was ambushed and executed in front of several bystanders. On 22 November, a security post in Goudoubo refugee camp was also attacked by armed men. Even if refugees and UNHCR’s staff and partners are not targets, this growing insecurity drastically limits humanitarian access and assistance in the most affected areas and forced UNHCR to temporarily relocate its staff from Djibo, to work remotely. Assistance to those who are still living in Djibo is now provided through partners, and UNHCR continues to assist locals and refugees who have arrived in Dori, Bobo Dioulasso and Ouagadougou. As the number of IDPs increased over ten-fold this year alone to reach 560,000 by end of November, Burkina Faso is at critical juncture and assistance is being scaled up to address the growing humanitarian needs.
Among other measures, members of the Humanitarian Country Team agreed to activate seven clusters including Protection and Shelter/NFI led by UNHCR, as well as Nutrition, Education and WASH led by UNICEF, Food Security led by WFP and FAO and Health led by WHO. A Working Group on Humanitarian Access has also been created to address this growing issue. In this highly challenging operational context, UNHCR has decided to extend its L2 Emergency in Burkina Faso and sustain its effort to provide IDPs and refugees with protection and assistance, starting with civil documentation. In 2019, over 76,000 birth certificates, 15,000 nationality certificates and over 7,000 National Identity Card have been issued to displaced populations and their hosts across Burkina Faso.

Coastal Countries. As insecurity continues to spread to east and south-east Burkina Faso, areas bordering Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Ghana and Benin run the risk of being destabilized. Though still limited, Burkinabe refugees have been reported fleeing towards Ghana and an attack was perpetrated on the night of 30 November to 1 December against the Yendéré police station on the border with Côte d'Ivoire.

Mali. On 28-29 November, the 13th meeting of the Tripartite Commission Mali-Niger-UNHCR took place in Mali. Members of the Tripartite discussed the regional security context and the situation of over 57,000 Malian refugees in Niger. Since early November, UNHCR facilitated the return of over 3,700 refugees to Mali, including through cash interventions. Although returns continue to take place, due to some security improvements in specific regions such as Timbuktu, the overall situation in Mali remains extremely precarious with large areas around Gao and Mopti outside of Government control, despite significant international support.

Niger. The ongoing violence and instability in the north-western Nigerian states of Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina continues to affect the bordering areas of Niger, especially western Tahoua region, and Jawalki where refugees have been fleeing since May 2019. Attacks on villages continues in the Maradi region of Niger. There has also been notable activity in the department of Madarounfa bordering Nigeria. Rooted in a dramatic increase in tensions between farmers and pastoralists, Haoussa and Fulani, this conflict has led to a new humanitarian emergency in Niger’s border regions around the city of Maradi in the departments of Guidan Roumji, Guidan Sori and Tibiri where over 45,000 refugees have arrived so far. Since their arrival more than 95% of Nigerian refugee children in Maradi have not received any form of education with figures equally alarming among the host populations, owing to social, economic and infrastructural challenges. To address the situation, UNHCR has prioritized the rehabilitation of schools and the improvement of the water infrastructure in the villages which have generously accepted to host refugees. UNHCR has also opened a health centre in Garin Kaka in October where both refugees and the local population have free access to primary health care including, among others, ante- and post-natal care, mental health and psycho-social support, family planning and malnutrition care. Other similar centres will be opened in the identified opportunity villages to expand and strengthen the ailing health infrastructure which was weak long before the arrival of refugees. Furthermore, UNHCR has been subsidizing mobile clinics in border villages to expand coverage to the most remote areas, and is providing, alongside partners, medicines and staffing to health centres in Dan Kano, Guidan Roumdji, Soulloulou and Tiadi, in addition to the medical screening desks set up at all the registration centers and the transit centre