UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Up to 41 million young people in the Sahel have bleak futures, pushing them to migrate and making them susceptible to radicalization, a U.N. envoy to the African region said Wednesday.
Hiroute Guebre Sellassie said young people under age 25 in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger "face hopelessness." She noted that 44 percent of children in the Sahel lack access to primary education and only 36 percent of the population can read or write.
If nothing is done to increase education, employment and other opportunities for youths under age 25, the Sahel "will become a hub of mass migration, and of recruitment and training of terrorist groups and individuals," Sellassie told the Security Council.
The countries in the vast Sahel region south of the Sahara desert are among the poorest in the world.
Sellassi said the region's governments are being forced to spend a significant percentage of their budgets on growing security threats, leaving little money for issues affecting young people.
The problem is compounded, Sellassie said, because drug traffickers are increasingly colluding with armed groups and "terrorist movements" who grant them safe passage in exchange for money.
"This unsustainable vicious cycle can only worsen without a strong international assistance," she said.
Sellassie said recent terrorist attacks in Mali, northern Cameroon and Nigeria attest to the global reach of extremist groups who are operating in rich and poor countries alike.
"If conflicts are to be prevented in the Sahel, illicit trafficking, including of drugs, weapons and humans should be stopped," she said.
Sellassie urged the Security Council to better monitor and prevent such trafficking, and to impose sanctions on all those who directly or indirectly finance "terror and instability."
While countries in the Sahel have the main responsibility for solving their challenges, Sellassie said the region "is a victim of the effects of global phenomena such as climate change, drug trafficking, violent extremism and the global economic decline, which surpass the nations' capacity to address them."