The head of the UN World Food Programme yesterday warned that the relocation of Islamic State group members from the Middle East to Africa could trigger a massive new European migrant crisis.
Executive director David Beasley said many of the militants who fled Syria amid the collapse of the Islamic State group’s self-described caliphate had ended up in the greater Sahel region, a belt of semi-arid land spanning east-west across Africa and home to 500 million people.
Islamic State militants are now collaborating with other extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, to create “extraordinary difficulties” across the Sahel, Beasley said in an interview.
He said he has warned European leaders that they could face a far larger migrant crisis from the Sahel than the Syrian conflict generated if they do not help provide the region with food and stability.
“You’re talking about the greater Sahel region of 500 million people, so the Syria crisis could be like a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming your way,” Beasley said he told them.
“What they’re now doing is coming into an already fragile area, a very destabilized area because of climate impact and governance, and they’re infiltrating, recruiting, using food as a weapon of recruitment to destabilize so that they can have mass migration into Europe,” he said.
“Mother after mother will tell you that: ‘My husband did not want to join ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] or al-Qaeda, but we had no food,’ and if you haven’t fed your little girl or little boy in two weeks and the alternative is signing up with ISIS, you sign up,” Beasley added.
The World Food Programme wants to provide stability, economic growth and sustainable development as well as food to the region, said Beasley, who was in Australia for talks with the government on funding strategies.
The Sahel — which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania — is vulnerable to droughts and floods and faces constant food insecurity.
Five nations have also been grappling with a growing menace from extremists, including groups linked to al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch.
In February last year, the so-called “Group of Five” agreed to assemble a 5,000-strong force to combat extremist groups, organized crime and human trafficking.
UN experts monitoring the implementation of sanctions on Mali said this month that the conflict-wracked West African nation and its neighbors “face intensified terrorist threats,” especially in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
The experts’ interim report said the militant group calling itself the official al-Qaeda branch in Mali and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara extremist group have declared that “jihadist groups are working together” to fight the 5,000 troops.
In January, the UN Security Council threatened sanctions against parties in Mali who obstruct or delay the full implementation of the peace deal agreed to by Mali’s government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups.
The experts concluded after their Mali visit last month that “all parties to the agreement are responsible for delays.”
“Insecurity continues to rage and is now shifting increasingly toward the center of the country” from the north, they said, adding that across the country “an estimated 4.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.”
Beasley told the UN Security Council last week that the number of people around the world in danger of dying unless they get food urgently surged to 124 million last year — mainly because “people won’t stop shooting at each other.”
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