Coronavirus – Africa: UNHCR West and Central Africa Update
Political and security developments
In West and Central Africa, governments are still grappling with the negative health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Despite the rising number of cases, most states are gradually lifting the preventive measures initially adopted in order to mitigate the social tension and economic slowdown they triggered. Supply chain challenges, rising food prices and loss of income threaten to leave millions without food across Africa. Levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia are expected to rise with forcibly displaced population being in particularly vulnerable. In this context, WFP and UNHCR have issued a joint statement calling for urgent support from donors and urging governments to ensure that refugees and other displaced populations are included in social safety nets and COVID-19 response plans to ensure their access food and emergency cash assistance. In Cameroon, WFP was forced to reduce its assistance to refugees from the Central African Republic by 50% in May and June due to funding gaps and, based on current funding levels, will have to stop cash assistance entirely from August. Cuts in rations are also expected for Nigerian refugees in the country.
In the Sahel, the conflict continues to escalate whilst social and political tensions are rising. In Mali, thousands of people took to the streets in recent weeks, sparking clashes with police. With general elections scheduled in Burkina Faso in November 2020 and Niger in December 2020, it is feared that further political instability could undermine the regional fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel. To prevent an escalation of the situation, heads of State from five countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met with the government and the opposition in the country’s capital city Bamako on 23 July followed by a virtual summit on 27 July during which proposals were made to unlock the political stalemate. In this tensed political context, the Operation Tukuba conducted by combined European and Sahelian forces has started in Mali, in support of the French forces of the Operation Barkhane. In Côte d’Ivoire, the Council of Ministers adopted on 13 July a decree creating a “Northern Operational Zone” following persistent insecurity at its border with Mali and Burkina Faso. A direct response to the attack on the post of the Ivorian army in the village of Kafolo on 11 June 2020, the creation of this zone will lead to a reinforcement of the military presence to prevent the infiltration of armed groups into the country and address the growing insecurity on its norther borders. In this context, UNHCR and its partners are supporting Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin in their contingency planning for potential influx in the coming months from the conflict in the Sahel.
In north-eastern Nigeria, Jihadist groups executed five aid workers in Borno State on 23 July 2020. They had been abducted while delivering food and medical supplies to remote areas between Monguno and Maiduguri amid surging coronavirus cases in the region. Following this gruesome killing, the security situation remains extremely precarious in the whole of northeast Nigeria where armed groups continue to carry out attacks on security forces and civilian populations and kidnappings.
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Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).