UN: Sahel violence could drive more refugees toward Europe

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency says “Europe should be much more worried” that more people from Africa’s Sahel region could seek to move north to escape violence, climate crises like droughts and floods and the impact of growing food shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, called for more efforts to build peace in the world as conflicts and crises like those in Ukraine, Venezuela, Myanmar, Syria and beyond have driven over 100 million people to leave their homes — both within their own countries and abroad.

UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, on Thursday issued its latest “Global Trends” report, which found over 89 million people had been displaced by conflict, climate change, violence and human rights abuses by 2021. The figure has since swelled after at least 12 million people fled their homes in Ukraine to other parts of the country or abroad following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

This year, the world is also facing growing food insecurity — Ukraine is a key European breadbasket and the war has greatly hurt grain exports

The African Union, whose continent relies on imports of wheat and other food from Ukraine, has appealed for help to access grain that is blocked in Ukrainian silos and unable to leave Ukrainian ports amid a Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea.

UNHCR said 2021 marked the 15th straight year of annual increase in the number of people displaced within their own countries – to more than 53 million. Among the reasons: Rising violence in places like Myanmar, war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and extremist insurgencies in the Sahel, particularly in Burkina Faso and Mali.

Grandi said the Sahel has already faced years of droughts and floods; inequality in wealth, education and access to healthcare; and poor governance. Growing food insecurity and conflict have added to the pressures.

“People are still suffering — they do not have food, do not have water, do not have shelter and have to flee,” Grandi said. “I’m very worried about Sahel. And I don’t think that we talk enough about this region that is, by the way, so close to Europe. And I think Europe should be much more worried.”

He noted that the world was facing events that forced refugees to flee even before the war in Ukraine.

“We are now all focused on Ukraine very much, but Ukraine comes after a line of other emergencies,” he said.

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Follow all AP stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.

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