Characterization of Vulnerability of Internally Displaced Persons in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger Using Respondent-Driven Sampling (RDS)

Phuong N Pham, Lisa Johnston, Katrina Keegan, Thomas O’Mealia, Dramane Yacouba Diallo, and Patrick Vinck

Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 36, Issue 4 (2023) Pages 818–841,


This paper characterizes the vulnerabilities of IDPs in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger using respondent-driven sampling (RDS) techniques. The IDP population in the central Sahel region grew from around 1.1 million at the end of 2019 to over 2.6 million at the end of 2021. Burkina Faso has the largest and fastest-growing IDP population with nearly 1.6 million IDPs as of December 2021, followed by Mali (401,736) and Niger (264,257).

Between August and October 2021, a total of 4,144 IDPs were surveyed in remote and urban areas in the three countries: Burkina Faso (Kaya, Ouahigouya), Mali (Bamako, Ménaka), and Niger (Niamey, Diffa). The authors utilized respondent-driven sampling (RDS) technique based on peer-to-peer recruitment. The survey instrument included questions about socio-demographic characteristics, experiences of displacement, violence, socio-economic integration, assistance, physical and mental health status, housing and health conditions, disability, and ability to meet basic needs. The analysis focused on nine targeted vulnerability profiles, based on three domains of vulnerability: (1) sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation; (2) health and welfare concerns; and (3) protection needs.

Main findings:

  • In Burkina Faso and Niamey, almost all IDPs had official identification documentation, while in Diffa, Bamako, and Ménaka, 68 percent, 54 percent, and 36 percent of IDPs did not have documentation, respectively.
  • The housing situation of IDPs varied by site. In both sites in Burkina Faso, the majority of IDPs rented a room in an apartment or house or lived rent-free with family or friends. The majority of IDPs in Bamako and Diffa lived in a self-constructed shelter. In Ménaka, IDPs were mostly divided across these three housing situations. In contrast, nearly all IDPs in Niamey lived in camps.
  • Across each site, the majority of IDPs reported having difficulty meeting their basic needs. This was particularly prevalent in Niamey, where 95 percent of IDPs had difficulty meeting their basic needs.
  • Experiences with assistance varied by site. Whereas all IDPs in Niamey reported receiving assistance, only 18 percent of those in Bamako had.
  • Less than half of IDPs across all sites reported feeling ‘fully’ integrated into local society. Bamako and Niamey had the greatest proportion of IDPs who reported feeling ‘not at all’ socially integrated, with 45 percent and 51 percent, respectively.
  • Across all sites, ratings of economic inclusion were worse than ratings of social inclusion. In all sites except Diffa, a greater percentage of IDPs reported feeling ‘not at all’ economically integrated versus feeling ‘fully’ economically integrated. Bamako and Niamey also had the greatest proportion of IDPs reported feeling ‘not at all’ integrated economically, with 45 percent and 62 percent, respectively.
  • Over 7 in 10 IDPs in the six survey sites fall into at least one category of vulnerability, with health (i.e., having a chronic illness, mental health issue, disability, or being elderly) emerging as the most common form of vulnerability. Mental health and chronic health make up the largest proportions, respectively, of the health vulnerability criteria in all sites other than Ménaka, where disability is the most prevalent component of health vulnerability.
  • Protection-based vulnerability (i.e., victim of torture, violence, or kidnapping) among IDPs was most prevalent in Mali, particularly in the remote site of Ménaka.
  • Neither demographic nor risk factors are systematically correlated with vulnerability status across contexts other than gender.
  • There are several site-specific significant associations. Feeling socially integrated is associated with increased vulnerability status in Kaya and Ménaka but associated with reduced vulnerability status in Ouahigouya. Both having high school or higher education in Diffa and receiving assistance in Ouahigouya are associated with reduced odds of vulnerability. Receiving assistance is significantly associated with reduced odds of vulnerability in Niamey.

The RDS recruitment method in this study identified displaced populations across six survey sites in the Central Sahel with a high prevalence of risk factors and vulnerability profiles. The study also revealed that vulnerability status domains are not mutually exclusive, with overlaps between health, protection, and gender categories of vulnerabilities. Additionally, the level, scale, and category of vulnerability varied significantly between urban and rural IDPs, even within the same country, such as in Mali.