The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has issued an urgent appeal for $186 million to provide lifesaving protection and assistance in the Sahel amidst fears that the conflict in the vast African region – exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – will spread.
The appeal, issued Friday in Geneva and Dakar, calls for $97 million in initial requirements for this year, $29 million to implement COVID-19 prevention and response measures in displacement areas, and $60 million to scale up UNHCR’s emergency response as part of its Sahel strategy.
‘Horrifying violence’: Grandi
“The emergency in the Sahel is a humanitarian and protection crisis of major proportions, where horrifying violence against vulnerable populations is becoming endemic,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The risk of spillover of the conflict into neighbouring coastal countries is very real and now exacerbated by COVID-19,” Mr Grandi added.
UNHCR puts the number of refugees, internally displaced persons, returnees and people at risk of statelessness in the Sahel at 3.1 million.
In Burkina Faso alone, the number of IDPs has more than quadrupled in less than a year, from 193,000 in June 2019, to 848,000 at the end of April amid escalating violence.
For those who have fled wars and persecution – and for host countries accommodating them – the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on what is mostly a hand-to-mouth existence, according to the refugee agency.
“We need to scale up with a comprehensive and inclusive response that places the rights and well-being of millions of displaced people at the heart of what we do,” Mr. Grandi said. “We must act before it is too late.”
Friday’s appeal complements other efforts by the UN and partners to galvanize financial and political support for the humanitarian response in the Sahel, UNHCR said.
It will enable UNHCR to provide more shelters and core relief supplies and to respond to sexual and gender-based violence, which the agency says has become more widespread in overcrowded camps. It will also provide support for education, rebuilding schools and classrooms, and extending distance learning opportunities.
‘Do no harm’ approach
In its statement, UNHCR said that given the impact of climate change in the Sahel, its response will follow a “do no harm” and eco-friendly approach that strengthens the ability of communities to prevent climate-related forced displacement, supports the use of clean energy and enables better waste management.
Last week, the UN’s peacekeeping chief told the Security Council that COVID-19 is complicating an already complex security situation in the Sahel, with terrorist groups exploiting the pandemic as they step up their attacks.
And in mid-May, eight United Nations aid agencies, including UNHCR, and non-governmental organizations working in the Sahel, warned that a record 24 million people, half of them children, need assistance and protection.