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 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 NSAGs 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 shelters. 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 livelihood 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 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 of 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 the 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 identifying solutions 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.