The United Nations appealed Wednesday for $100 million to help it boost support for refugees fleeing escalating conflicts and crises in Africa embarking on risky migration routes to Europe.
The UN refugee agency voiced deep concern over swelling displacement from conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region, as well as in the East and Horn of Africa.
This, it said, was driving more people to attempt deadly crossings of the Mediterranean towards Europe, resulting in at least 1,064 deaths along the central and western crossing routes last year alone.
“UNHCR is seeking just over $100 million to enhance refugee protection in African countries en route to the Mediterranean,” the agency said in a statement.
“Offering safe and viable alternatives to the perilous journeys marred by abuse and deaths is the critical priority.”
Violence across the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal through Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Sudan, has forced around 2.9 million people to flee their homes, according to the agency.
– ‘Harrowing’ –
“With no prospects for peace and stability in the region, further displacement is highly likely,” it warned, stressing that “many continue to attempt risky sea journeys to Europe.”
UNHCR pointed to driving factors for including protracted displacement, dire conditions in neighbouring countries where many had already attempted to seek shelter and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sea crossing itself is not the only dangerous part of the journey for many of the refugees and migrants trying to make their way to Europe.
“We hear harrowing first-hand accounts of brutality and abuses that refugees and migrants suffer along the routes towards the Mediterranean,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the situation in the Central Mediterranean, said in a statement.
“Many fall prey to traffickers and smugglers and are abused, extorted, raped, and sometimes killed or left to die.”
Cochetel stressed that many of those fleeing violence and persecution at home “have dire and urgent protection needs.”
“It is critical that they receive life-saving support and protection in the countries to which they initially flee,” he insisted.
UNHCR said that the money it was seeking was part of a new strategy aimed at increasing outreach, identification and assistance to refugees along the migration routes.
The agency said it also aimed to enhance access to education and livelihoods in countries of asylum.
It meanwhile reiterated its call to states to make it easier for refugees to move legally between countries, including through family reunification, to reduce their need to set off on dangerous land and sea journeys in the first place.