Sahel situation

a father carrying his son in his arms
A father and his child in the IDP’s family center in Burkina Faso. Many people are internally displaced due to the increase in the attacks on civilians and security forces in the Sahel region.
© UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
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Latest updates

Sahel Situation Funding Update - 2023
1 week ago
Sahel Situation Funding Update - 2022
7 months ago
Sahel Situation Funding Update - 2021
31 December 2021
1 year ago
September - October 2020
1 year ago
August 2021
2 years ago
February 2020
3 years ago
January - September 2020
3 years ago
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Global Report 2022 


2022 Year-end population figures 

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers (in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger): 1.1 million, 55% women, 45% men; 82% women and children  

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers (from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger): 394,800 

  • IDPs (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger): 3.0 million 

  • IDP and refugee returns: 65,300 (Mali) 

  • Others of concern to UNHCR (from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger): 139,100  


2022 Situation overview 

In 2022 the escalating conflict and deteriorating security situation drove the forcibly displaced population in the Sahel up to 4.1 million people – from 3.6 million at the end of 2021 – including 1.1 million refugees and asylum-seekers and 3.0 million internally displaced people (IDPs). Their already difficult living conditions were further exacerbated by an ongoing food crisis, tension over scarce resources and the consequences of climate change. Rural populations increasingly fled to urban areas in search of safety but faced new protection risks. In addition to a lack of access to land, shelter and livelihoods, women and youth were at particular risk of sexual and labour exploitation, gender-based violence, forced recruitment and trafficking. Humanitarian access diminished across the region due to the deteriorating security situation, and the already limited resources of local communities and national authorities became even further overstretched, prompting increasing numbers of Sahelians to join mixed movements towards coastal countries or North Africa and Europe. 

The situation was most acute in the Central Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where the armed conflict kept intensifying and extending, causing a spike in human rights violations and forced displacement within the Central Sahel and beyond. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, over the last five years in the Central Sahel, the number of security incidents increased sixfold and the number of fatalities almost eightfold. There were 30% more security incidents in 2022 than in 2021, and fatalities almost doubled to more than 10,000. Approximately 30,000 Malian refugees fled to Burkina Faso and Niger in 2022, and at the end of 2022 the number of IDPs in Burkina Faso reached almost 1.9 million people, an increase of 300,000. Insecurity, political instability and economic difficulty further complicated the context, as reflected by Burkina Faso’s two coups in 2022 alone. Non-State armed groups (NSAGs) strategically destroyed crops and food storage to exacerbate food insecurity in vulnerable communities, and directly targeted places of learning. Security-related school closures left half of refugee children out of school.  

NSAGs also blockaded urban centres by cutting off roads and supply lines, forcing people leaving rural areas to flee across borders instead. As NSAG violence in Burkina Faso also spread southward, there was a marked increase of uprooted nationals from Burkina Faso with an estimated 22,000 fleeing towards Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo by the end of 2022 – in addition to 50,800 who had sought asylum in neighbouring Mali and Niger. Most of the refugees were women and children hosted by local communities with already scarce resources, leaving the new arrivals vulnerable to exploitation and other protection risks. Despite applying an open border policy, receiving countries remained concerned with potential security problems within their territories. A few allegations of refoulement were reported in late 2022. In response, UNHCR scaled up emergency preparedness activities and supported Government authorities in preparing contingency plans in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. 

UNHCR’s response to the growing needs focused on women and youth, urbanization, mixed movements and climate action. UNHCR provided shelter assistance to 67,000 forcibly displaced people in Burkina Faso, including emergency, temporary and semi-permanent shelter. The shelters were accompanied by the distribution of core relief items, which benefited 80,000 people. To respond to gender-based violence, UNHCR and its partners utilized mobile teams in addition to fixed centres, and survivors of gender-based violence and women at risk were provided with psychosocial support, legal aid, medical services, or access to livelihoods activities. A total of 136 classrooms were built or rehabilitated in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and 767 teachers were trained to support the integration of refugee children into national education systems. Moreover, 165 refugee students were supported with university scholarships. In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger almost 26,000 households received cash assistance to meet shelter, livelihood, education and other protection needs. 

To promote more evidence-based programming in the Sahel, the Project 21 regional inter-agency protection monitoring system was strengthened and new partners were added to increase the harmonized data collection and analysis. In 2022 more than 15,000 individual interviews were conducted in more than 2,400 different localities across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger as part of Project 21, and in November the tools and methodology were introduced in northern Côte d’Ivoire to assess the protection situation of new arrivals from Burkina Faso.  

In the context of mixed movements, more than 700 first-contact entry officials and community members monitors along key routes in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger were trained on referral mechanisms. They identified more than 32,000 people on the move, and over 2,500 were referred to protection services as an alternative to risky onward movements. Information on protection risks on the route and on alternatives to dangerous journeys was provided to over 70,000 people on the move and in transit communities along the routes, and those fleeing insecurity and persecution were informed on their right to asylum. 

Climate actions were undertaken to ensure a greener and more sustainable response, such as recuperating degraded soil, creating firebreaks in vegetated areas and promoting solar energy for water pumping. In Burkina Faso about 500 Nubian vaults, eco-friendly and affordable long-term shelters, were constructed. In Mali, vulnerable households received improved cooking stoves; and local plant husbandries were provided with seeds and tools for the production of plants sold to local market gardeners.  

UNHCR continued to work closely with Governments in the region to improve the protection environment. In Burkina Faso and Mali in particular, support continued toward the domestication of the 2009 Kampala Convention through the adoption of national laws to protect and assist IDPs. To respond to a new influx of Malians in Niger, UNHCR supported national authorities to register new arrivals and advocated for status determination. Additionally, advocacy was carried out with the Governments of the coastal countries to guarantee access to territory and favour group recognition for Central Sahel arrivals, including refugees from Burkina Faso.  

UNHCR also continued coordinating with government and development actors to strengthen the links between humanitarian and development work in the Sahel. Strategic consultations took place with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the European Commission’s Department for International Partnerships, and numerous bilateral cooperation agencies, to foster the social, financial, economic and digital inclusion of refugees in long-term national policies and programmes. Strategic dialogues also included coordination efforts between stabilization and protection actors in the Sahel, in the framework of the UNDP-supported Liptako Gourma stabilization strategy. Broad consultations led to the adoption of a national strategy for recovery and durable solutions in Burkina Faso, and the approval of a plan of action for durable solutions in Mali. Both national policy instruments, supported by development actors, provide entry points for inclusive governmental initiatives geared towards durable solutions for those forcibly displaced. Forcibly displaced populations were also included in numerous development projects, such as interventions with the German technical cooperation agency’s project for resilience of IDPs and host communities (PDICA) in Burkina Faso and the EU/AFD/UNHCR’s Inclusive Development Programme in host areas in Chad. Finally, UNHCR continued to liaise with the relevant Governments and actors to further operationalize the Bamako process, focusing on responding to the Sahel crisis and on identifying solution for IDPs, refugees and other civilians affected by it. With the support of UNHCR a draft regional action plan was developed, for discussion by regional experts.  

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Global Appeal 2023

2023 population planning figures: 

  • Refugees and asylum-seekers: 519,000 

  • IDPs: 3.74 million 

  • Refugee and IDP returnees: 385,000 

  • Others of concern to UNHCR: 19,600 


2023 situation overview 

Forced displacement in the central Sahel reached new heights in 2022, with over 2.9 million refugees and internally displaced people across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and an emerging trend of Burkinabe seeking asylum southward and northward, including in North Africa and Europe. Violence and conflict spilled over to coastal countries (Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo), with several thousand new arrivals recorded. Given the complex interplay between conflict, climate change, food insecurity and widespread lack of socioeconomic opportunities, high levels of forced displacement are expected to continue into 2023.  

In this volatile context, UNHCR will endeavour to stay and deliver a protection-centred emergency response. To better understand the risks and needs of people forced to flee and their host communities, UNHCR will seek to enhance protection monitoring through the regional inter-agency Project 21. Registration, gender-based violence prevention, risk mitigation and response, child protection, education, civil documentation (including for those at risk of statelessness) and the provision of shelter and core relief items will be integral to the emergency response. Along mixed movement routes, reinforcing community-based identification and referral mechanisms and providing young people with opportunities will be essential to offer alternatives to risky onward movements. In the coastal countries, UNHCR will increase its emergency preparedness by implementing or updating contingency plans, building capacity and increasing coordination with governments and partners through a regional situational emergency training.  

UNHCR will continue to work with governments to improve the protection environment and find durable solutions, including achieving the goals of the #IBelong Campaign to end statelessness by 2024. All opportunities for solutions will be explored, including local integration, voluntary repatriation where the conditions for a safe and dignified return are met, and resettlement for the most vulnerable refugees. Partnering with local and national responders, UNHCR will invest in existing community-based structures and seek to mainstream climate action as part of its response. Strategic partnerships with development actors will focus on initiatives that will help to unlock such solutions for the displaced. At the regional level, UNHCR will continue its engagement with UN-wide coordination mechanisms such as the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and will advance opportunities for the Sahel as part of the Regional Collaborative Platform.  

Global Report 2021

2021 Year-end population figures

  • Refugees and asylum seekers (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger): 231,000, 78% women and children
  • IDPs (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger): 2.1 million IDPs
  • IDP and refugee returns: 79,000
  • Other people of concern (Niger): 50,000

2021 Situation overview

The security environment in the Sahel continued to deteriorate in 2021, with serious implications on the lives of people of concern to UNHCR. Despite military operations carried out by national and international security forces, extremist, non-state and other armed groups continued to maintain a strong foothold in the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso tri-border area and expanded their reach towards coastal countries, subjecting civilian populations to violence and repeated attacks. Within the past two years, the number of refugees and IDPs in the central Sahel has grown by over 200%, with almost 2.1 million at the end of 2021. With coastal countries increasingly threatened by the Sahel conflict and instability, influxes from Burkina Faso into Benin and Côte d'Ivoire took place in 2021 and were expected to continue in 2022. In addition, high population growth and climatic hazards contributed to growing food insecurity in the Sahel. Repeated shocks, including droughts and floods, greatly affected the livelihoods of the most vulnerable in 2021, including forcibly displaced people, leaving many without shelter and giving rise to tensions with host communities grappling with their own vulnerabilities.

To address the growing needs of people forced to flee in the Sahel, UNHCR’s response focused on protection, emergency preparedness, shelter and core relief items, prevention of and response to gender-based violence, education and an environmentally conscious approach. UNHCR distributed $6.5 million in cash assistance to people of concern, while 167,000 benefited from shelter support and 185,000 were reached with life-saving core relief items. UNHCR supported gender-based violence survivors and enhanced community-based child protection and education responses. By the end of 2021, in the Sahel region, 57,000 forcibly displaced children were enrolled in primary school thanks to UNHCR’s support. This was a marked increase compared to 2020, as the effects of the pandemic started to wane and UNHCR was able to support children's return to school. However, insecurity in the Sahel continued to disrupt children's access to education, with schools increasingly being taken as targets by non-state armed groups. UNHCR also reinforced its leadership in the protection, camp coordination and camp management and shelter/core relief items clusters to better support internally displaced people.

UNHCR supported the intergovernmental Bamako Process, which aims to enhance the protection environment in the Sahel, and worked closely with government partners to increase registration and access to documentation of people of concern. Jointly with the Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR co-led Project 21, a protection monitoring project involving over 20 other protection actors that aims to enhance common, evidence-based analysis, advocacy and programming in the Sahel. In 2021, close to 7,000 interviews were conducted with key informants or heads of households in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In addition, UNHCR sought to work along the peace-humanitarian-development nexus and deepen its partnerships with development actors to help address the root causes of the Sahel crisis. In cooperation with the World Bank and the Government of Burkina Faso, UNHCR supported municipalities and key local actors with capacity-building to help them improve their emergency response in the areas of the country most affected by forced displacement.

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Countries affected