Landmines and improvised explosive devices in Africa’s conflict-ridden Sahel and Lake Chad basin regions are posing risks to refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency said as they call for stronger efforts to mitigate the danger.
UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said mines, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and more frequent use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are resulting in a growing threat to host populations, refugees and IDPs.
He said that while the intended targets of numerous anti-government and non-state armed groups are the security forces, more and more civilians are indiscriminately killed and maimed.
Baloch said that Chad and Nigeria top the most affected countries in the lake Chad Basin and cited the most recent incident in a refugee camp in eastern Chad on June 24 where four refugee children aged from 9 to 12 were killed and three others seriously injured when they picked up an unexploded device and tried to open it.
Meanwhile, in northeastern Nigeria, some 230 people were killed by IEDs and more than 300 injured in 2019. More than 15 incidents have been reported so far in 2020.
The UNHCR said they also witness a rising trend in the Sahel. In Niger, five incidents have killed at least five refugees and displaced people while injuring many others since the start of the year.
On January 21, two teenagers – a local resident and a refugee friend from Burkina Faso – picked up an unexploded rocket. Mistakenly thinking it was a toy, they tried to open it with an axe. The device exploded killing the teenage resident and badly wounding the refugee.
In Niger’s Diffa region, two vans ran over explosive devices near the town of Bosso, in two separate incidents in February and March. The explosions killed four people including three high school students and many others injured, including a 10-month-old baby.
In Mali, the civilian population accounts for almost half of the victims of landmines and improvised device explosions in the entire country. At least 42 civilians were killed in 82 incidents between January and May this year.
In Burkina Faso, on June 06, a vehicle carrying two refugees hit an IED near Mentao refugee camp. Both were evacuated to Djibo, where they received treatment for their injuries.
Sahel is facing one of the fastest growing displacement crisis in the world, where millions have fled indiscriminate attacks by armed groups against civilians such as summary executions, the widespread use of rape against women, and attacks against state institutions, including schools and health facilities.
In addition to the high death toll, injuries and their after-effects, including psychological damages, the presence of explosive devices hinders access to local livelihoods such as pastures, fields, farms, fire wood as well as community infrastructure. They also affect the delivery of humanitarian aid and development activities.
UNHCR continues to support the injured and the families of the victims. It also helps with the funerals of the deceased and provide psycho-social support sessions for survivors – including for the children.
UNHCR stresses the importance of broad and comprehensive assistance for all victims, in line with the United Nations Policy on Mine Victim Assistance. The United Nations Policy recommends that landmine victim assistance includes data collection, medical care, physical and other rehabilitation, including psycho-social care. (Source: UNHCR)