UNHCR West and Central Africa Update – May-June 2020

• In West and Central Africa, the COVID-19 has put already fragile national health systems and economies under increased pressure, adding to pre-exiting challenges linked to conflict and political tensions in several parts of the region. Refugees and IDPs are particularly affected by this pandemic. Often residing in overcrowded and precarious conditions rendering impossible social distancing or basic preventive measures such as handwashing they are exposed to heightened risks of contamination. Governments have adopted measures to curb the spread of the virus including closing borders, imposing travel bans, prohibiting mass gatherings, shutting down schools, and closing markets. These restrictions had a dire impact on local economies and increased the risk of food insecurity in the region, particularly in the Sahel. With their livelihoods severely disrupted, many displaced family’s resort to negative coping mechanisms, including child labour. There are also great concerns regarding gender-based violence which is on the rise since the beginning of the COVID crisis as a direct result of the preventive measures enforced and the economic strain these restrictions have put on many households. In an effort to mitigate the negative socio-economic impact of the pandemic, many countries in the region are have started to relax restrictions despite the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating in West and Africa, and moving from the main urban centers into the remote rural areas hosting the majority of refugees and IDPs.
• The Sahel conflict continues to escalate and expand in the region, undisrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Burkina Faso, on 2 May 2020, anti-terrorist units entered the camp of Mentao near the city Djibo and searched several houses and injuring 30 refugees during this operation. While expressing grave concern for the safety of refugees, UNHCR assisted all injured refugees and called for an urgent investigation into the incident after which most refugees left the camp. On May 11, a joint operation was launched by Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso against jihadist armed groups near their shared border. This new development indicates that jihadist groups have been strengthening and expanding their range of operations, leaving coastal countries fearful that the violence may spill onto their territories. In Niger, on 30 May 2020, a coordinated attack against the Intikane refugee camp in the Tahoua region killed three refugee leaders, caused severe damages and forced thousands of persons to flee.
• In effort to curb the escalating violence, the leaders from the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and French President Emmanuel Macron met in Nouakchott in Mauritania on 30 June, to discuss a common strategy to improve the security situation in a region while addressing the humanitarian and development crisis. Concerned with the growing number of human rights violations reported in the region, UNHCR along with other United Nations humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations issued a joint-statement on 12 June calling the G5 Sahel countries and the international forces to commit to protect civilian populations during their operations and to ensure unhindered humanitarian access.
• In Chad, four refugee children lost their lives and three got injured on 24 June after manipulating an explosive device while on their way back to the Kounoungou camp where they resided, in Wadi Fira province, eastern Chad. UNHCR is responding to the needs of the affected families on site. Although this is the first case reported this year, incidents linked to mines and IEDs remain a persistent issue in the refugee hosting areas East and North of Chad.
• Instability and violence reached unprecedented levels in May and June in the Northwestern States of Sokoto,
Zamfara and Katsina of Nigeria where criminal groups are intensifying their attacks on villages. The security situation is also precarious in Northeast Nigeria and in the Lake Chad Basin region. On 12 June, islamists groups affiliated to Boko Haram mounted a daylight attack on Monguno town, attempting to enter the Humanitarian Hub (HH), which serves as an office and residence for UN and INGO staff in the area. At least 20 soldiers and over 40 civilians have been killed in the attack which took place a few days after at least 81 civilians were killed in the village Gubio, in the same State of Borno, With the ongoing violence by Boko Haram and other armed groups, populations continue to be forced to flee across the Lake Chad region where some 2.5 million people are currently displaced, including some 1.8 million inside Nigeria, most of them scattered in overcrowded sites where living conditions remain precarious despite international assistance. On 22 May 2020, a large fire which swept through one of the IDP sites around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, leaving two people dead and destroying the shelters and belongings of over 4,000 displaced people. The fire began after sparks from a cooking fireplace spread out and ignited a fire which soon engulfed shelters all around the camp. In the past few months, several fire incidents have occurred in congested IDP camps across North East Nigeria where shelters are too close for safety UNHCR is working with the authorities, aid agencies and local partners to make sure those affected receive shelter and other relief items as people are once again displaced inside and outside of the camp.
Many, including young children, are living under the open skies, needing immediate help with shelter, food and clothing and other core relief items.

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

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