Remarks at the Ministerial Roundtable for the Central Sahel

Madame Chair,

I have visited the region many times, the last time in February. Like many of you, I have been profoundly shocked – I have spoken before about the dire realities on the ground. I think it is useful to recall some elements of that reality:  the basic and unmet needs of hundreds of thousands. The obvious prevailing trauma due to unspeakable violence perpetrated against civilians. The overwhelming number of women that have suffered rape and other forms of sexual violence. And, as has been mentioned many times, the huge forced displacement which will be the main focus of my remarks.

So, we heard a lot today already, I won’t repeat, about the many causes of this crisis. All somehow converge in this phenomenon of forced displacement. There are almost two million refugees and displaced people in the region; 650,000 displaced this year alone.

In Burkina Faso, as mentioned by Minister Barry, one million internally displaced. Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world has the same number of displaced people as the total number of refugees and migrants that reached Europe in 2015 and 2016, destabilizing one of the richest continents in the world – just to put things in perspective.

Now we have COVID-19. A new element of crisis including, of course, its economic impact which is particularly severe on those who are already displaced but COVID-19, the coronavirus, is not stopping displacement. We have actually seen further displacement outside the immediate subregion, unfortunately into West African coastal states.

UNHCR and its partners have focused on this situation for years: I recall the work that we started in 2012 for Malian refugees and there are still 140,000 of them in the region. As the crisis expanded, causing both external and internal displacement, UNHCR and other agencies stepped up the humanitarian response and the quest for solutions for all uprooted people. And here I just want to mention that we developed with States in the region a particular instrument called the Bamako Process, at ministerial level, aimed at strengthening the regional capacity to deal with population movement; noting that countries in the region have remained very generous in hosting people coming from countries nearby in spite of their problem.

Before I close, a few closing remarks. One is that forced displacement is always a measure of crisis. In this sense, therefore, since it’s growing, it means the crisis is not being sufficiently addressed. We heard about many contributions made in past years. We heard with great satisfaction of bigger contributions coming up. We need to inject a sense of urgency in this response, that I’m afraid I do not see yet coming out of the international community. But I hope this conference – for which I’m very grateful – will contribute to that.

Specifically, as many have said, humanitarian assistance is insufficient. A thirty-five per cent average funding of humanitarian response plans in the region is a very worrying sign. So I hope that pledges made today will sustain humanitarian responses - not just until the end of the year but into the next two to three years because this will be very important.

We spoke a lot about the nexus. We know that when there is willingness and political will and resources the nexus can work. We should not always speak about it in the future, it can work in support of States. Building their capacity is the fundamental issue in the Sahel. And part of the success of the nexus is faster action by development actors and by international financial institutions. Their interventions need to accelerate their pace. We can’t wait five years for those interventions to bear fruit especially in areas like education - I haven’t heard much about it but it is an area deserving a lot of attention, and especially in building urban capacity - displaced people are moving essentially from rural to urban areas. 

We also hear (every day almost) that Europe is very worried about population movements towards its borders. We know that this is making and breaking governments today in Europe. But we all know that the Sahel is both a region of transit and of origin of those movements. And unless unified, strategic, substantial interventions by Europe (and other partners of course) occur, those population movements will continue and accelerate. If it was not an abused comparison, I would say that what the Central Sahel needs is a Marshall Plan, a comprehensive plan in support of states in the region- and I don’t see from the side of donors any better entity than the European Union to lead that, in particular now that the European Union is discussing its own budget for the next few years. 

Finally, a point on security. A focus on security is very important. We’ve heard it from States in the region. And by the way, may I make a point, it is important in support of the French point that this applies also to humanitarian workers. I am very worried about the trends that we see of threats to humanitarian workers in the region. But frankly, security as has been said by many, is a failure if it is not in connection with humanitarian and development action. 

Allow me to conclude by making a strong appeal to all those involved in the security sector and in particular to States in the region: they must calibrate security interventions - it has been mentioned before - with the need not to impact negatively through those interventions civilians. Unfortunately, this is happening and it is causing further suffering and further displacement.

Thank you, Madame Chair.