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Burkina Faso: waiting in Somgandé refugee camp

She speaks to me in Mòoré, the language of the Mossi people, spoken by 5 million in Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo.

Good morning to you too, I answer.

Her face is tattooed, according to her tribe’s tradition back in Mali. In her arms, her little son, being treated for malnutrition. Beside her is her husband, wearing a traditional tuareg coat and veil.

We’re in the Somgandé refugee camp in the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital.

This is the home of 300 Malians who had no other choice but to leave their homes due to insecurity in their country. Since the coup d’état in March, the situation in Mali has only gotten worse.

Somgandé camp

There were more than 700 Malian refugees here some weeks ago, now there are only 300 left. The others have left the camp and are now living in the community, managing on their own.

A consortium of NGOs and international organisations run the camp. Save the Children is responsible for providing the refugees with non-food items such as cooking utensils and blankets, as well as making sure that all children are screened for malnutrition and treated if necessary.

In a matter of days, a local NGO will take over and run the entire camp.

Influx of refugees

There are around 62,000 registered Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. The other 105,000 that have fled their home country due to fighting and instability are spread across Mauritania and Niger.

A deteriorating situation in Mali means new arrivals. Sitting in the shade of the trees, I find those who came to Burkina Faso only a few days ago.

The influx of refugees is putting an increased burden on already vulnerable neighbouring countries. And the numbers are rising.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is expecting the number of Malian refugees in Burkina Faso to reach 100,000 before the end of the year.


It’s lunchtime. All over the camp there are families, gathered around stoves and pots.

There’s smoke in the air from the charcoal and the burning wood, and children’s voices fill the air. The adults keep an eye on them and wait. And then wait a little longer.

“We’ve been here since February,” a teenage girl tells me. She’s resting her head in her friend’s lap, the friend is putting braids in her hair.

“Heat water in the microwave and dip the braids in it before braiding them into the hair”.

The text on the plastic bag containing the black braids becomes somehow ironic, considering the circumstances.


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