Displaced Burkinabes find a home as their host finds his purpose
Lambda*, 85, recalls how saddened he was when he first saw groups of displaced people streaming into his hometown of Tougouri in Burkina Faso’s Centre-North region. He had heard of armed attacks in the region and stories of whole villages destroyed.
The retired civil servant and father of seven did what he believed anyone would have done – he opened his home to them.
“They are human beings just like me, and what they are going through can happen to me too,” says the widower. “I couldn't bear to see them sleeping outside at the mercy of the cold and dust.”
Since November 2019, the generous host has welcomed more than 100 of his compatriots who fled their homes into his compound, offering them shelter, food and even money to buy supplies.
His gesture is reflective of the extraordinary solidarity that Burkina Faso’s host communities have shown towards those displaced during a decade of turmoil in the Sahel region, where armed groups have staged attacks, destroyed property, and forced people from their homes.
By the end of 2021, there were over 1.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Burkina Faso, with the country’s Centre-North and Sahel regions the worst aﬀected. Overall, forced displacement in the Central Sahel region – which also includes Mali and Niger – has increased tenfold over the past decade from 217,000 to over 2.5 million, including some 410,000 refugees – mostly from Mali – in addition to 2.1 million IDPs.
Lambda has seen the population in Tougouri rise rapidly with the intensification of attacks in the area. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Demographics, more than a third of the 115,000 people currently living here are internally displaced. The rising numbers have increased pressure on already scarce resources such as land, water and social services.
But this has not deterred Lambda from helping as many people as he can, especially displaced children.
“I often help the little children with food or money, but I must admit that it's hardly enough,” he explains.
About 80 per cent of Burkina Faso’s population relies on subsistence farming, with cotton being the main cash crop. The deteriorating security situation, coupled with limited access to certain regions, has hindered access to markets and fields and severely impacted livelihoods and agricultural activities.
“Lambda’s generosity is exemplary. We need to support him and other host community members who have shown extraordinary solidarity,” says Abdouraouf Gnon-Konde, UNHCR’s Representative in Burkina Faso.
He adds that UNHCR, together with other agencies, is supporting authorities to protect and assist displaced families, including through the strengthening of infrastructure and services in areas affected by population movements.
Raogo and his family of 18 fled their home after armed groups attacked their village in Pensa. They now live on land that Lamda provided.
“I really appreciate his humility and kindness as it is difficult to find such benevolent people nowadays,” said Raogo. “He considers us his brothers and shares the few things he has with us.”
Limited space means that Raogo and a hundred of IDPs living in Lambda’s compound don’t have land to cultivate, but they are grateful for the fact that they have a place to call home for now.
"I made the right choice to welcome them into my home."
Given the increasingly protracted nature of Burkina Faso’s displacement crisis, UNHCR also works with the authorities and development actors to pursue long-term solutions for IDPs, aimed at ensuring their socio-economic inclusion in the communities that host them.
Many of the families currently staying on Lambda’s property have been there for more than two years, and he is grateful for the close relationships they have formed.
“The fact that we have lived together without any major incidents is very comforting and reassures me that I made the right choice to welcome them into my home,” he says.
Lambda explains that for as long as the situation remains volatile, he will continue supporting them.
"Their gratitude gives me feelings and emotions that money can’t buy. One thing is for sure, I will continue to support people in need because that's what gives meaning to my life.”
*Name changed for protection reasons.