The Overlooked Crisis in Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso, embroiled in conflict since 2019, is facing a severe refugee crisis, identified as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in Africa for the second consecutive year, according to a new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

The West African nation recorded a staggering 707,000 new displacements within its borders in 2023, continuing its humanitarian crisis unabated. The number of people killed in violence more than doubled to over 8,400 deaths, while Burkinabe refugees seeking safety in neighboring countries nearly tripled to 148,317, as per UNHCR figures.

An unprecedented 42,000 people endured catastrophic levels of food insecurity, and up to two million civilians were trapped in 36 blockaded towns by the end of the year. Armed groups’ movement bans severely restricted humanitarian aid, leaving at least half a million people in what the NRC termed an “aid blind spot.”

By spring 2023, over 6,100 schools had closed in Burkina Faso, accounting for nearly half of all closed schools in Central and West Africa. The healthcare system also suffered, with about 400 health facilities shut down and many more operating at minimal capacity, affecting 3.6 million people—a 70 percent increase from 2022.

Tragedy struck on February 8, 2023, when two staff members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were murdered by an armed group in northwestern Burkina Faso, marking the first such incident involving national aid workers from an international NGO since the conflict began.

Security issues hindered road access to many areas, forcing humanitarian organizations to rely on limited air transport, which escalated operational costs and further restricted aid delivery. The financial strain worsened as funding for the response plan dropped to 39 percent in 2023, down from 43 percent in 2022.

Media coverage of the crisis dwindled as several international news outlets and journalists were banned from Burkina Faso in 2023. The domestic press also avoided sensitive topics due to increased risks.

As the crisis continues, an all-time high of 6.3 million people will require humanitarian assistance in 2024, with more than two million remaining internally displaced. While some displaced individuals have started to return home, there are growing concerns about the protection of civilians. Ensuring that returns are voluntary, dignified, and safe, as stipulated by the Kampala Convention, will be a major humanitarian focus in 2024.

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