Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com
AFP: Burkina Faso’s government said Tuesday (June 8, 2021) that more than 7,000 families had fled the country’s volatile north following the worst jihadist massacre in years, while the UN refugee agency tallied 3,300 people. “Steps have already been taken to give (displaced people) a minimum level of comfort, lodgings and food,” Prime Minister Christophe Dabire said. “More than 7,000 families have moved to Sebba,” the capital of Yagha province around 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the scene of the attack in Solhan village, he added. (USAfricaonline.com notes Christophe was picked by Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré after the resignation of Paul Kaba Thieba).
In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said that more than 3,300 people had fled, including more than 2,000 children and over 500 women, after gunmen stormed into Solhan on Saturday and massacred civilians. At least 138 men, women and children had been “executed” in the attack, while nearly 40 people were seriously injured, Baloch said.
Local sources have put the number of dead at at least 160, marking the deadliest attack since Islamist violence erupted in the West African country in 2015.
Burkinabe Communications Minister Ousseni Tamboura said the village “has been completely emptied of people.” One local elected official said that most of those who left Solhan had already been fleeing jihadist violence, including in the Mansila district to the west. Attackers “burned almost everything, houses, the market, the school and the dispensary,” the official added.
The slaughter in the early hours of Saturday followed the slayings of 14 people late Friday in the village of Tadaryat in the same region, where jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have been targeting civilians and soldiers.
Displaced people “arrived with few or no belongings,” Baloch said, adding that most “were generously welcomed by local families who are sharing what little they have.” Baloch said that the new arrivals urgently needed water, sanitation and shelter, plus essential aid items and medical care.
UNHCR and its partners were building 200 shelters and providing assistance, but more resources were needed to scale up the response. Baloch said that the massacre came just a few weeks after gunmen shot at UNHCR and other aid organisation vehicles on the road between the city of Dori and the Goudoubo camp, housing some 12,200 Malian refugees and asylum seekers. While no-one was injured in that attack, he warned that “growing insecurity and the presence of armed groups in several regions of Burkina Faso increasingly hamper the delivery of aid and protection for those in need.” The UNHCR, he said, “calls for concerted action to reinforce the protection of civilians and reminds all parties that humanitarian organisations are carrying out life-saving interventions in an independent and impartial manner.”
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has struggled to fight back against increasingly frequent and deadly jihadist attacks from groups including the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).
The attacks, which have claimed at least 1,400 lives, first started in the north near the Mali border, but have since spread to other regions, particularly in the east.
“We’ve been fighting terrorism for some time and we’ve had some victories,” prime minister Dabire said. “But every time there are new challenges that appear.” Since 2019, violence in the country has forced more than 1.2 million people to flee their homes, according to UNHCR numbers. Just since the start of this year, some 150,000 people have become internally displaced in the country, Baloch said, adding that 84 percent of them were women and children.