01/19/2016 16:48 EST | Updated 01/19/2017 00:12 EST

Burkina Faso: Quebec volunteer program 'intensifies' security measures

The director of a Quebec-based volunteer program in Burkina Faso says the group has no plans to leave their work in West Africa, but will strengthen its security policies following last weekend's attack on a hotel and café popular with foreigners.

Uniterra, part of the International Centre for Studies and Cooperation in Montreal, has been working on development programs in Burkina Faso and other West African countries for several years.

Director Odette McCarthy said volunteers based in Burkina Faso had noted increased security concerns on the border with Mali in recent years. However, the attack in Ougadougou, which left 29 people dead, came as a shock, she said.

Six Quebecers on a humanitarian mission with the Congrégation des sœurs de Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours, a religious congregation based in nine different countries, were among those killed.

Security ramped up

For its part, McCarthy said Uniterra tries to communicate clearly with volunteers about the risks involved in the work, especially zones in the country which they were not allowed to visit. 

"There were recommendations to avoid obviously public places, places where foreigners are to go, but that directive is definitely being intensified in terms of having a very clear list of places not to go," McCarthy said.

"The rise of terrorist acts, randomly choosing targets in different countries across the world, is going to shape the way that we inform people, and we prepare them and the security measures we have in place. Our organization and many others are going to continue to adjust to this new reality."

Global risk

Many countries in Western Africa rely on assistance and support from humanitarian groups, McCarthy said. 

"This is a risk that is global, and so we have to be attentive that we're not over-penalizing some of the poorer countries and at the same time as organizations that we're really doing the best that we can do to ensure their security."

She noted that there are advisories for travellers visiting many destinations.

"You know people are still going on vacation to Europe, to France and yet there are the same types of advisories on the Canadian government sites," she said.

Currently, the Canadian government has an advisory to "exercise a high degree of caution" in Burkina Faso with regional advisories about travel near the Mali border. Canada has a similar advisory for France and Belgium.