UN food agency boss warns of migrant crisis

The head of the United Nations food agency warned Monday that the relocation of Islamic State group members from the Middle East to Africa could trigger a massive new European migrant crisis.

David Muldrow Beasley is an American politician and Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme. (AP)

David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, 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-Qaida, al-Shabab and Boko Haram, to create “extraordinary difficulties” across the Sahel, Beasley said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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 or al-Qaida, 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, referring to the group, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The World Food Program 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-Qaida’s North Africa branch.

In February 2017, the so-called “Group of Five” agreed to assemble a 5,000-strong force to combat extremist groups, organized crime and human trafficking.

Beasley told the 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.”

He said by video link that almost 32 million of those acutely hungry people live in four conflict-wracked countries: Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northeastern Nigeria, where famine was averted last year.

Globally, Beasley said, 60 percent of the 815 million chronically hungry people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from live in conflict areas.