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Host Communities Embrace and Support Forcibly Displaced People across West and Central Africa


Host Communities Embrace and Support Forcibly Displaced People across West and Central Africa

In West and Central Africa, host communities are offering invaluable support to forcibly displaced people, sharing food and shelter despite their own difficulties. This solidarity is reflected as much in Côte d'Ivoire as in Mali and Chad, where mutual support between host populations and refugees is crucial in the face of humanitarian challenges.
18 June 2024 Also available in:
Côte d'Ivoire. Domba Coulibaly hosts refugees from Burkina Faso in Ouangolodougou

Hundreds of women and children are gathered in the noisy courtyard of Seco School in the Hamdallaye district of Ouangolodougou, a city located in the far north of Côte d'Ivoire. The morning is very hot, with minimal shade to shield anyone from the sun. Amidst the apparent chaos, three men are attempting to organize the crowd so they can be registered by local authorities as asylum seekers.

Despite its limited resources, the town of Ouangolo has received nearly 6,000  forcibly displaced people since last year, mainly women and children fleeing insecurity in Burkina Faso and Mali. Domba Coulibaly is well-known there for his hospitality and for being the main provider of beef meet in his neighborhood. Since February 2023 he has assisted dozens of families seeking refuge after escaping violence and intimidation in their villages.

Seated on a wooden chair opposite the pen where his cows are kept at the entrance of his house, the 45-year-old butcher addresses about twenty men. "It's the presence of the armed groups in Burkina Faso that has forced them to leave their homes, because anyone who doesn't support their cause has to leave. Otherwise, they don't want to leave, but if you're told that if you don't leave you'll be killed, you have no choice but to leave. That's what made them flee", the head of family says.

 "People cross the border on foot, on tricycles or in motorbike taxis, paying for the journey with the little money they have left after leaving everything behind. Many have no clothes other than those they are wearing, and they also arrive very tired", he adds. These new arrivals then rely on the host community who, despite their own difficulties, share what little they have and help them to apply for asylum and be registered in Ouangolodougou.

"I take in all those who arrive and share my food with them while I find them a house to rent. They come here empty-handed. I also introduces the new arrivals to the authorities, such as the village chief, who then informs the local administration of their presence."

Côte d'Ivoire is home to a total of almost 58,000 people from Burkina Faso and Mali, currently registered as asylum seekers. Among them is young mechanic, Issouf Coulibaly. He fled Burkina Faso almost a year and a half ago, with his wife, children and apprentices, because of the violence and constant threats from armed groups. 

When he arrived in Laléraba, Côte d'Ivoire, he stayed with a host family and tried to open a motorbike repair garage. To do so, he asked for a small space and was granted one, but as he had no funds, he asked for help from the village chief, who provided him with sheet metal and wood. He then had a carpenter build a shed where he started receiving his customers.

Côte d'Ivoire. Mechanic and Asylum seeker Issouf Coulibaly repairs motorcycles in Laleraba where he sought refuge after fleeing conflict in Burkina Faso. 

"Today, I manage to earn a bit of money.  I just have to do a good job, so even if their bikes break down at the other end of town, people come to me for repairs. However,  if just one customer comes in a day, that's not enough to pay for a meal. Buty if it is for a major breakdown, I can earn 5,000 ($8) or 10,000 CFA francs ($16), so that's a good deal," says the mechanic, with a smile on his face.

In neighbouring Mali, the host community is showing the same solidarity. Hamidou Maiga is an unemployed head of household based in Mopti, in the centre of the country. The 70-year-old has generously welcomed many Burkinabè who have fled following repeated violent attacks on their villages, in which hundreds of people have been killed. He shares the little food he has with them, pointing out that they have received no support apart from a few blankets from the UNHCR, which, with its partners, is rolling out its response plan. 

"The situation is quite complex because the government here favours the host family approach, and one of the first responses is to register these people, the first waves of whom have been arriving since June last year (2023), and we are continuing to receive them. To better assist them, we need a site for them to settle and, of course, the necessary resources to develop and erect shelters. We've also been able to mobilise a number of partners, including the World Food Programme (WFP), which has helped these people with food", says Edmond Onana, head of the UNHCR office in Mopti.

Mali is currently hosting around 70,000 refugees, while meeting the needs of more than 354,000 internally displaced people. Of the refugees, mainly from Burkina Faso and Niger, 40,000 have fled Burkina Faso in the last three months because of unrest and instability in their country. 

Chad is facing similar difficulties while hosting more than 1.1 million refugees, making it the country with the highest number of refugees per capita in Africa. Apart from the Sudanese who arrived before the recent war, this total also includes refugees from Cameroon.

In 2024, the UNHCR recorded 13,552 cameroonian refugees, including 2,700 residing in the Guilmey camp on the outskirts of Ndjamena, the Chadian capital. This camp was established in 2021 following the deadly conflicts in Kousséri, in the far north of Cameroon. Abo Abdoulaye Akramadé, who hails from this region, fled with his family from inter-community violence three years ago, seeking refuge in Chad after walking for hours and crossing the Logone Chari River by pirogue.

Tchad. Cameroonian refugee Abo Abdoulaye Akramadé pointing his finger in direction of a farmland the host community accepted to give to him in Guilmey camp, on the outskirts of the Chadian capital, Ndjamena.

 "Frankly speaking, the Chadians are generous. As soon as we arrived in the Milezi forest, they welcomed us and gave us food, water, blankets and mats. Then they gave us 45,000 CFA each ($75). With this money, I bought goats, ducks and pigeons that I started to raise", said the head of family, proudly showing off his animals.

  "The Comité International pour l'Aide d'Urgence et le Développement (CIAUD) and the Commission Nationale d'accueil de Réinsertion des Réfugies (CNARR) gave us land and we also got seeds, and now we're in the process of harvesting," he added, pointing to his field.

Abdoulaye's resourcefulness has also made him useful in the Guilmey camp: "With this, I was recruited as a community relay to carry out awareness-raising, information, education and communication activities. Thanks to this work, I earn 25,000 CFA ($40) a month. With all that, I can feed my children. I feel really safe here and I thank God," he adds gratefully. 

 Whether in Côte d'Ivoire, Mali or Chad, help from host populations often precedes assistance from humanitarian organisations. Their intervention demonstrates the importance of communities, governments and humanitarian agencies working together to meet the needs and find solutions for people who cannot return home. People who remain optimistic and determined to rebuild their lives and offer their families a better life, despite the hardships of forced displacement.