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New safety measures allow Malian refugees to return to camp in Burkina Faso

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Malian refugee families return to Goudoubo camp, Burkina Faso, December 2020. Some left the settlement in March following security incidents.  © UNHCR

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has helped 3,000 Malian refugees move back into Burkina Faso’s Goudoubo refugee camp, nine months after insecurity forced them to abandon the site.

This month, in 31 convoys of buses and trucks, UNHCR relocated the refugees to Goudoubo camp in the country’s north-east from the nearby town of Dori. Another 150 refugees relocated on their own on motorcycles or in tricycle taxis. Some moved on foot, accompanying their cattle.

Goudoubo hosted 9,000 refugees until March this year when a series of violent attacks and ultimatums by armed extremists emptied the camp. Some 5,000 Malian refugees made the difficult choice to return home to a country still in turmoil, where UNHCR assisted them on arrival.

The remaining Malians fled, many to Dori town, where they were welcomed by a host community already grappling with dire conditions, impacting shelter, clean water, and health services.

Now, national authorities have reinforced security in and around Goudoubo, with more personnel and increased patrols allowing Malian refugees to return to the camp.

“The Malian refugees returning to Goudoubo had been asking us to move them back to the camp where most had lived since 2012. We thank the authorities for making their return to Goudoubo possible by  adding security measures and their commitment to keep the camp safe,” said UNHCR Representative in Burkina Faso, Ioli Kimyaci. “Goudoubo will offer better access to services and will make life away from home a little easier, while we look for alternatives and lasting solutions.”

At Goudoubo, UNHCR and the National Commission for Refugees, CONAREF, have built 1,500 new shelters for the returning refugees. In addition to shelter, essential aid, infrastructure improvements, and helping strengthen community networks, UNHCR and partners have refurbished and restocked a health clinic, and primary and secondary schools are ready to reopen and welcome students. Livelihoods are also expected to return, including farming and pasture lands for cattle to graze.

Returning refugees have begun reopening small businesses in Goudoubo, including grocery shops and butchers. Refugees tell UNHCR that the return to the camp means an end to the struggle to find shelter and access basic services.

Relocations will continue this month, with a further 2,100 refugees expected to move back to Goudoubo from the Mentao camp, near Djibo. Access to Mentao had been cut off for more than a year, after a string of deadly attacks severed aid and food distributions and forced UNHCR staff to stop their work there.

In Africa’s turbulent Sahel region, Burkina Faso is at the epicentre of one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement and protection crises. One out of every 20 people – amounting to more than one million people – is now internally displaced. Burkina Faso also hosts 20,000 Malian refugees, the majority of whom fled violence in 2012.

Across the Sahel, refugees, internally displaced people and their hosts are subjected to brutal violence, including rape and executions. The COVID-19 pandemic added a new layer of hardship for the refugees and further complicated efforts to support them.

Despite the welcome relocations to Goudoubo, UNHCR is again warning that attacks by armed groups in the Sahel will lead to further displacement in a region already hosting nearly two million IDPs and hundreds of thousands of refugees.

 

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