Burkina Faso Crisis: Why You Have Probably Never Heard of It, but Need To

Op-ed

Because of the rapid effects of violence and the continuous drought, many displaced civilians are struggling to find shelter. Yet this conflict that is now named "the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis" according to the UNHCR, has received little attention from the mass media. To understand the background of Burkina Faso, it is important to note a couple of points and facts about the country.

Background Information

Burkina Faso borders Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast and is located in West Africa. Burkina Faso ("land of honest men") didn't always have its name. The Berlin Conference excluded all African nations and allowed powerful European countries to claim territory in Africa as a way to bring in natural resources which depleted the quality of life for Africans, known as the Scramble for Africa. In 1919, the French named the land they acquired in Upper Senegal and Niger and the Côte d'Ivoire Upper Volta, inspired by the Volta River which was included in the territory. Upper Volta gained its independence in 1960 after the French gave it self-governing rights in 1957 and was named Burkina Faso. Since then, innocent civilians have fallen victim to the destruction of ongoing coups in the 1960s through the 2000s which proved to have lasting effects that might be irreparable.

https://www.britannica.com/place/Burkina-Faso

A 2-part Crisis

There are 2 parts to this complicated crisis: climate and violence. Both issues have resulted in Burkina Faso making the International Rescue Committee's 2021 Emergency watchlist the "The world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis", according to the committee. In 2020, 96,000 people fled their homes looking for opportunity and, in most cases, survival, but in just over 6 months, homes in 2021. The spike in numbers of registered asylum seekers is just the beginning of an ongoing humanitarian crisis that has been swept under the carpet for years even as COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly. The country simply cannot keep up with the impact of a dangerous pandemic. The crux of this crisis is the displacement of people (refugees) and understanding the ethical and logical way to find safety for these refugees in different countries.

https://www.icrc.org/en/document/burkina-faso-increased-armed-violence-means-loss-health-care-half-million-people

Violence

Due to the violence of Al-Qaeda and the lack of government intervention, civilians have created ethnic military groups to fend for themselves. At the beginning stages of the violence, militia groups would target government and security areas. However, the strategy has shifted. Now, violence has ensued in education, medical, and communal facilities. Routinely attacks on civilians in villages have caused a rise in military groups and a refugee crisis. Paranoia among the groups accusing others of joining certain militias has weakened the government’s approach: training government militias to be stronger than the other infractions. According to Refugees International, half of the civilian deaths are attributed to self-organized militias in the state. The International Rescue Committee reported that “Almost half a million people, 40% of whom are children, have been displaced by the ongoing ethnic and religious conflict, primarily in the north of the country”.

https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/254-social-roots-jihadist-violence-burkina-fasos-north

Climate

According to UNICEF, 350,000 people do not have water access due to the desert-like climate. Shelter and food insecurity have been contingent on economic inequality. Oxfam International reported that “80% of the population lives on agriculture and livestock”, which means women are left with no to little no way to provide food for their family, since it is expected that women feed the family. Women aren't the only population suffering. Men who run the small-scale farms are unable to export crops like cotton, which makes up 60% of the agricultural production. Men are threatened by the armed groups, which discourage many farmers from even planting crops. If men can’t grow the crops and women can’t put food on the table, the kids suffer as well. Nearly 7.5 million children face starvation, said Save the Children. This domino effect has led to 1 million people being displaced, most because of malnutrition.

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/africa/bf-climate.htm

Why you need to know

The Burkina Faso crisis is the most fast-growing, yet arguably has received the most underfunded humanitarian aid. The Norwegian Refugee Council reported that in 2019, only 48% of the money that was needed was raised. As a response to Oxfam's publication writing about the abuse women face, the Burkina Faso government cracked down on those trying to raise awareness about the crisis. People who want to visit the country to document the crisis are denied access due to keeping “the "dignity" of those in the camps and the safety of journalists” (voanews). Burkina Faso needs to be in the headlines and talked about more in important discussions within communities. Education is the crux of solving an issue. Authorities claim to have opened an investigation into reported violence into the fact that little to no progress has ensued. According to Human Rights Watch, security force members threatened their way through a refugee camp and “physically over 30 Malian refugees” on May 2nd. Recently, unclear laws have allowed this violence to be unaccountable, so much so that it is now institutionalized on a big scale. One, in particular, was written on January first which created the Defense of the Homeland, a trained self-defense group. Most ethnic groups abuse this law by creating an ethnic armed force and calling it the Defense of the Homeland to justify the violence as “legal”. In 2019, a Yirgou massacre took place, killing 40 men. The ethnic group, the Mossi, carried out this attack and most of the attackers were a part of the Defense of the Homeland ( Human Rights Watch).

https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2021/5/5/atrocities-and-displacement-in-burkina-faso

Quick Stats:

  • “Insecurity had also caused 2,208 schools to close as at 12 February 2021, affecting more than 314,000 students”- https://www.acaps.org/
  • “82 health facilities have been closed because of violence and 243 are partially functional”- https://www.acaps.org/
  • “ In the first nine months of 2020, Burkina Faso saw the third-highest civilian deaths (886) of all Watchlist countries and the fifth-highest globally” -ACLED and https://www.rescue.org/

Ela Eryilmaz
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Ela is a Turkish-American Junior attending High School in Massachusetts. She loves to participate in political campaigns to further her knowledge about social issues. She is the founder of a social enterprise, Next Page, that helps refugees around the world. Ela enjoys learning about international relations, languages, and history.