Lake Chad explosives: UNHCR calls for action to mitigate risk on IDPs, refugees
By Unekwuojo O
July 28, 2020 - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is calling for stronger efforts to mitigate risks for displaced persons posed by landmines and improvised explosive devices in Africa’s conflict-ridden Sahel and Lake Chad basin regions.
The UNHCR in a statement on Tuesday says Nigeria and Chad are the most affected countries in the Lake Chad Basin Region with more than 15 incidents reported so far in 2020.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, since the beginning of 2020, there have been a growing number of fatal incidents involving forcibly displaced populations.
The Agency said that 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.
UNHCR says while it appears that 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.
“In the most recent incident in a refugee camp in eastern Chad on June 24, 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.
“Our teams on the ground 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.
“For example, on 21 January 2020, 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, mainly Mopti, Gao and Kidal regions.
“The routes linking Mopti, in the centre of the country, with the northern regions are particularly affected and dangerous.
“In Burkina Faso, on 6 June, a vehicle carrying two refugees hit an IED near Mentao refugee camp. Both were evacuated to Djibo, where they received treatment for their injuries,” the UNHCR said.
UNHCR’s spokesperson Babar Baloch in a media briefing in Geneva says urgent efforts are needed to address the dangers and legacy of landmines.
Baloch said there is also urgent need to heighten awareness of the horrifying threat from mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.
He added that there is a vital need for governments, humanitarian organizations and parties to conflict to expand mine action work as civilians pay a heavy price.
“Mines also pose additional hazard for refugees and IDPs fleeing violence and persecution and hinders their right to return to their homes
“We see mines and unexploded ordnance as critical obstacle to safe and dignified returns, posing lethal dangers for the returning refugees and displaced people for years after the conflict has ended,” Baloch said.
The UN Refugee Agency says the Sahel is facing one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world, where millions have fled indiscriminate attacks by armed groups against civilians.
UNHCR stated that the attacks include executions, the widespread use of rape against women, and attacks against state institutions, including schools and health facilities.
The Agency said that 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. We also help with the funerals of the deceased and provide psycho-social support sessions for survivors – including for the children.
“We are also engaging with the community leaders to raise awareness on the risks caused by unexploded ordnance.”
UNHCR stresses the importance of broad and comprehensive assistance for all victims, in line with the United Nations Policy on Mine Victim Assistance.
It said that the United Nations Policy recommends that landmine victim assistance includes data collection, medical care, physical and other rehabilitation, including psycho-social care.