GENEVA, 24 January 2021 – Refugee camps are at a breaking point across the Sahel region, overflowing with nearly four million people fleeing political persecution or violence from jihadist militants, the United Nations refugee agency said Saturday.

The exact number is “no fewer than 3,679,563” people, according to the most updated data datelined 31 December 2020 and posted Saturday on the website of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)

Refugee Camp - Photo UNHCR

A view of one edge of the Sahel’s many, many refugee camps – Photo UNHCR

They include internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, and returnees exploring the opportunities to resettle or be resettled.

Sahel Region - Source War News Information Press

Africa’s Sahel Region – Source War News Information Press

The five nations hosting them in UN-run camps are Burkina Faso with over one million people (exactly, 1,095,277), Mali with 1,025,208, Chad with nearly one million (919,112), Niger with a little above half a million (531,268) and Mauritania with 64,644 people.

An estimated 2,020,768 of the 3.67 million are internally displaced persons.

The UNHCR data identifies 854,880 of the 3.67 million as refugees and asylum-seekers.

Returnees account for 66,023 with an additional 137,892 people are listed by the UNHCR under the label “others of concern”.

To get a deeper understanding of just how fast the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees and the internally displaced has skyrocketed in the Sahel, consider Burkina Faso.

UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi - Photo Devex

UNHCR Chief Filippo Grandi – Photo Devex

The total number of nearly 1.1 million as of December 31, 2020 is up from a mere 193,000 in June 2019.

“The emergency in the Sahel is a humanitarian and protection crisis of major proportions, where horrifying violence against vulnerable populations is becoming endemic,” Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stressed..

The majority of those displaced are victims of “intense and largely indiscriminate violence perpetrated by armed actors against civilians”, according to USA for UNHCR.

Yet, this is “one of the most forgotten”, laments the agency in a posting on its website.

Malian Refugees - Photo InfoMigrants

Malian Refugees – Photo InfoMigrants

UNHCR struggles to raise the funding it needs to provide lifesaving protection and assistance to refugees, returnees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced persons across the Sahel.

The job has not been made any easier by the outbreak of COVID-19.

In its June 2020 appeal for $186 million in funding for central Sahel, UNHCR included $29 million to cover the costs of implementing “COVID-19 prevention and response measures in displacement areas”.

In the light of the fast-growing numbers of refugees, the appeal included $60 million “to scale up UNHCR’s emergency response as part of its Sahel Strategy”.

Refugees from Burkina Faso in Mali - The New Humanitarian

Refugees from Burkina Faso in Mali – The New Humanitarian

All across the Sahel, the UNHCR’s strongest partners are local or host communities.

Without their generosity in welcoming, hosting and sharing from the very little they merely get by on, refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees and the internally displaced would be a lot worse off, the UNHCR has recognized in many speeches and official reports.

Food insecurity, which was always a challenge in the camps, has been made worse by the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Climate change has created additional challenges. They include fresh conflicts between refugees and their host communities over control or access to water points or to the limited fertile farmlands that barely grow enough food to feed host communities that are often food insecure themselves.

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