Burkina Faso suspends Norwegian Refugee Council’s operations

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Burkina Faso’s government has suspended the Norwegian Refugee Council aid group from operating in the West African country, the organization said Friday.

Earlier this week, the ministry of humanitarian action ordered the NRC to indefinitely suspend all operations, a decision linked to media coverage of a recent press release, the NRC said in a statement. The group had warned that the government’s lack of capacity to deal with the country’s growing humanitarian crisis and unwillingness to let aid groups step in was putting hundreds of thousands of displaced people at greater risk.

The aid group has been providing education, shelter and water to displaced people in Burkina Faso for more than two years, since violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State spiked there, killing thousands and displacing more than 1.4 million people. It was the world’s fastest growing displacement crisis last year.

The group has been banned from working in displacement sites. Its statement said it is “working in dialogue with the government to address any concerns they may have in order to resume respectful and collaborative relations.”

“The suspension of an aid group is very negative, first for the displaced people and refugees who are the first beneficiaries,” said Armand Joseph Kabore, director of Labo Citoyennetes, a local think tank, saying it makes them more vulnerable.

The government did not respond to requests for comment, but in a widely circulated internal letter, seen by The Associated Press, the humanitarian minister, Helene Marie Laurence Ilboudo Marchal, defended the decision by asserting that the NRC was trying to “discredit the government” by saying it was refusing to let aid groups register displaced people and forbidding groups to work in hard-to-reach areas.

Burkina Faso’s security and humanitarian situation is deteriorating, with deaths in extremist attacks on the rise this year.

“This is yet another appalling decision from the government’s part that hinders humanitarian aid,” said Alexandra Lamarche, senior advocate for West and Central Africa for Refugees International. “The government of Burkina Faso is actively working to silence and intimidate organizations.”

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