With nearly 20,000 Malian refugees now in Burkina Faso, according to Burkina Minister of Communications Alain Traore, and up to 800 more crossing the border each day, the government says it urgently needs more help.
The most urgent need is for “shelter, food and medicine” in the country’s northern Sahel Region, said Denis Ouedraogo, coordinator of the National Commission for Refugees.
"The government has done everything it can and the local authorities have used up all their resources," he added.
Since 10 February, the government has provided blankets, kettles, mats and tents to some 4,000 refugees. Now, with the increased numbers, it is fully stretched.
Ouedraogo said measures such as increasing the number of wells, and preventing cattle theft by providing security, were needed to prevent tension between the host population and refugees. Local people rear their cattle on the same land being used by refugees.
On 24 February, a group of 600 refugees living in a Ouagadougou soccer stadium were relocated temporarily to a Ministry of Social Welfare and National Solidarity training centre at Somgande on the northern outskirts of the city. The government is providing them with food and water. Some 200 refugee families (about 1,000 people) are in the capital. The chairman of the Committee for Assistance to Mali Refugees, Ousmane Ag Dala, said more aid would be sent to the camp at Somgande.
"This is the first time that these refugees have been cared for," said Al Mansour Ag Mahmoud, an independent researcher on health and social anthropology and currently a refugee working for the Committee.
"Our children need to go to school, and there are big families who are packed in houses in Ouagadougou," he added.
Mahmoud said over 800 refugees in western Burkina Faso “were being forgotten”. Some have been sheltered by host families while others are trying to cope on their own but have little or no money.
''We really need more food to assist the most vulnerable [in the Sahel Region] because they are helpless,'' said Modeste Konkobo, humanitarian officer with the Burkina Faso Red Cross.
Konkobo spoke from Inabao, 10km from the border with Mali in the Sahel Region, where he was distributing food to refugees being relocated to Serelio transit camp, Oudalan Province. He said more food was needed; non-food items were being brought up from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.
Roger Ebanda, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office in Burkina Faso based in Ougadougou, said a three-person team from the agency had just completed registration of refugees in the city and had moved on to two camps in the north (Ingani in Soum Province, and Goudebo in Seno Province) to continue the process. UNHCR was recruiting more people to help with the caseload. Ebanda added that it would take "millions of dollars" to rehabilitate the two camps.
Burkina Faso's Sahel Region is hosting 16,000 refugees, mainly in the provinces of Soum and Oudalan, said Boureima Yiougo, governor of Sahel Region. He said the area was beginning to feel the pressure of the refugees, now arriving at a rate of 800 a day.
"There are a large number of people arriving yet relief efforts are weak," he added.
He said vaccination campaigns against meningitis had been conducted and Vitamin A had been given to an unspecified number of children.
Meanwhile, Bibata Sankara, humanitarian officer with the World Food Programme (WFP) sub-office in Dori, capital of Sahel Region, said WFP had set up food distribution centres in 723 schools and 74 health centres in the region. WFP is working closely with the Burkina Faso Red Cross to help refugees too weak to reach health centres.
Ansare Mohamed, who works with the Committee for Assistance to Mali refugees and is in charge of the Mentao site in Soum, which has 1,250 refugees, said a Médecins Sans Frontières-France team had just brought in medicines.
''Things are moving slowly but in the far north they have not received anything yet,'' Mohamed said in reference to Inabao and Tinakoff close to the Mali border.