Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have already faced years of unrest and climate distress. But growing food insecurity and conflict have compounded pressures, raising concerns in Brussels and Geneva about an increase in attempts to reach Europe.
In roughly 90% of households in the Sahel countries of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, basic needs such as access to water and healthcare, education and security can no longer be met, according to a report released on Thursday, July 21, by the Geneva-based REACH Resource Center. The United Nations supported initiative monitors how conflicts affect living conditions around the world.
Sahel's food insecurity, aggravated by the war in Ukraine which has disrupted grain exports, could push scores of migrants to flee the region and move north.
In June, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said "Europe should be much more worried" that more people from the Sahel region could arrive.
'People are still suffering'
"People are still suffering — they do not have food, do not have water, do not have shelter and have to flee," Grandi said. "I'm very worried about Sahel. And I don't think that we talk enough about this region that is, by the way, so close to Europe. And I think Europe should be much more worried."
According to a spokesperson for the UN migration agency International Organization for Migration (IOM), there have been "significant increases" in migrant flows through Niger and Mali toward North Africa in the first quarter of 2022 compared with previous years.
The number of migrants that fled Niger between January and April was more than 45% higher than the number during the same period in 2021. The number of outgoing migrants from Mali almost doubled in the same timespan, the news agency Reuters reported.
On July 5, Mali's government announced that twenty-two migrants from Mali, including three children, died off the coast of Libya. The 22 who died were part of a group of 83 migrants trapped on a distressed vessel since June 22, Reuters reported, citing the Ministry of Malians Abroad.
Violence and climate change also push factors
Attacks by armed gangs and extremists, as well as a lack of infrastructure and the impacts of climate change such as flooding and droughts, are also increasingly making everyday life difficult for civilians in the Sahel region, the REACH report found.
More than 70% of households in Burkina Faso and Niger are dissatisfied with water, health and sanitation facilities, it added. Internally displaced people who left their homes due to violence and poverty are particularly affected.
Households in all three countries are similarly affected in terms of lack of educational opportunities. Numerous schools have been closed for years due to the ongoing violence. In 2021, over 400,000 children did not attend school in Burkina Faso alone, the report noted.
Over the past decade, the Sahel crisis has spread from Mali's north toward the center, but mainly spilling into neighboring Burkina Faso. Niger is also increasingly affected. Over 2.5 million people are on the run due to the violence, REACH reported.
Analysts have said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout of the war in Ukraine have also further pushed people to flee Sahel, Reuters reported.
With KNA, Reuters and AP