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UNHCR concerned about displaced Nigerians, calls on neighbouring countries to keep borders open

Press Releases, 29 May 2013

The UN refugee agency on Wednesday voiced concern about the safety and welfare of people displaced in northern Nigeria by the activities of the militant Boko Haram group and the government's response. UNHCR also urged Nigeria and other governments in the region to offer protection to the internally displaced or those seeking asylum.

Reports from the north indicate that many people have been left internally displaced and others have fled across borders and sought shelter in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

"UNHCR remains concerned for the safety of the civilian population, especially those who may be forced to flee from their homes in search of safety," said George Okoth-Obbo, director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau.

In Niger, UNHCR has confirmed the arrival of at least 2,400 people from Nigeria. Elsewhere, reports suggest that Nigerians may have been prevented from entering Cameroon because of measures taken to prevent the infiltration of armed groups. UNHCR is in contact with the Cameroon authorities to verify the reports and their impact on legitimate asylum-seekers.

"The authorities have a legitimate responsibility to secure national security. At the same time, it is vital to ensure the safety and protection of civilians caught in this situation and their right to seek asylum in neighbouring countries," Okoth-Obbo said.

"We call on the concerned governments in the region, which are all signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to allow civilians fleeing insecurity or other risks to enter their territory."

As the activities of Boko Haram and the government response continue, humanitarian agencies fear further displacement and an influx of Nigerian asylum-seekers, or even third country nationals, into neighboring countries.

UNHCR stands ready to assist the arriving refugees in neighbouring countries and is prepositioning emergency relief supplies to assist new arrivals now and in the future.

For further information please contact:

  • In Niger (on mission), Helene Caux (Regional spokesperson) on mobile +221 77 333 1291
  • In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
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UNHCR country pages

2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Each week 10,000 Muslims cross into eastern Cameroon to escape the violence consuming the Central African Republic (CAR). Many new arrivals report that they have been repeatedly attacked as they fled. The anti-Balaka militiamen have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing people to find alternate routes through the bush. Many are walking two to three months to reach Cameroon, arriving malnourished and bearing wounds from machetes and gunshots.

UNHCR and its partners have established additional mobile clinics at entry points to provide emergency care as refugees arrive. The UN refugee agency is also supporting public health centres that have been overwhelmed by the number of refugees and their condition.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has relocated some 20,000 refugees who had been living in the open in the Garoua Bouai and Kenzou border areas, bringing them to new sites at Lolo, Mborguene, Gado and Borgop in the East and Adamwa regions.

Since the beginning of the year, Cameroon has received nearly 70,000 refugees from CAR, adding to the 92,000 who fled in earlier waves since 2004 to escape rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

UNHCR staff members Paul Spiegel and Michele Poletto recently travelled to eastern Cameroon and have the following photos to share from their iPhone and camera.

2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

In May 2013, the Nigerian government, responding to a surge in violence in the north-east of the country, declared a state of emergency in the volatile states of Borno, Adawama and Yobe. Many people fled to neighbouring Niger's Diffa region and to the Far North Region of Cameroon. Fresh violence in January this year has forced thousands more to flee to both countries. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux visited the towns of Bosso and Diffa in Niger's Diffa region shortly before the latest influx. She met some of the Nigerian refugees who had fled earlier waves of violence across the border. They told her of the violence they had seen, the losses they had suffered and their attempts to lead as normal a life as possible in Diffa, including sending their children to attend school. They are grateful to the communities that have welcomed and helped them in Niger.

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

Malian refugees in Niger struggle to rebuild their lives

Some 60,000 Malian civilians have found refuge in Niger this year, fleeing fighting in northern Mali as well as political instability in the whole country. Most are hosted in three official camps - Tabareybarey, Mangaize and Abala. A significant number are living in spontaneous settlements. All are located in harsh arid countryside where life is tough despite the assistance provided by UNHCR and other aid agencies.

Children are the most vulnerable group, with some suffering from acute malnutrition. Older children are looking forward to resuming their education in a foreign land. Meanwhile, some 6,000 refugees are living in the Niger capital, Niamey, where many of them look for work so that they can send money back to relatives still in Mali.

Meanwhile, the future remains uncertain. Many people fear that continuing fighting inside Mali could lead to an accelerated exodus of refugees from Mali into neighbouring countries, including Niger.

The following photographs by UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux depict life for the refugees in Tabareybarey and Mangaize camps as well as in Niamey.

Malian refugees in Niger struggle to rebuild their lives

Niger: Flight from Nigeria
Play video

Niger: Flight from Nigeria

People escaping the fighting between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram rebels get a friendly welcome in Niger.
Chad: Health for allPlay video

Chad: Health for all

Refugees in southern Chad receive health care under a European Union-funded programme. A new clinic tackles malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections and more.
Chad: Changing LivesPlay video

Chad: Changing Lives

Refugees in southern Chad's Amboko Camp grow vegetables under an income-generation programme funded by the European Union.