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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

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

One year after the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in the northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, violence continues to displace people within Nigeria and to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, including some 22,000 Nigerian refugees. Civilians trapped at home face recurrent attacks by insurgents, with a series of kidnappings and killings culminating in mid-April this year in the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno.

UNHCR's Hélène Caux recently travelled to the region to meet with some of the 250,000 internally displaced, including students caught up in the violence. Those she spoke to told her about their fears, and the atrocities and suffering they had endured or witnessed. People spoke about their homes and fields being destroyed, grenade attacks on markets, the killing of friends and relatives, and arbitrary arrests. Uniting them is an overwhelming sense of terror. Caux found it a challenge to photograph people who live in constant fear of being attacked. "It was this delicate balance to try to achieve between featuring them, communicating their stories and protecting them," she said.

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

Growing numbers of refugees from the Central African Republic have been arriving in Cameroon in a dreadful physical condition after spending weeks or months hiding in the bush, struggling to find food and water, and sleeping out in the open, unable to return to the homes they were forced to flee from. The most vulnerable of these refugees are the children, especially those aged under five years. It is heart-breaking to see these rail thin children, clearly in need of sustenance after living on roots and leaves. An estimated 40 per cent of children arrive suffering from malnutrition and for some the journey proves too much, but UNHCR has been helping to save lives in eastern Cameroon. With Médecins Sans Frontières, the refugee agency supports a nutrition centre in Batouri. MSF sends children there from its overwhelmed health clinic in the border town of Gbiti, where some 20,000 of the 80,000 Central African refugees in Cameroon have arrived. The partners are expanding the capacity of the centre, which treats about 100 children. More arrive daily and UNHCR has set up tents to provide shelter for the children and their mothers. Photographer Frederic Noy last week visited Gbiti and Batouri and captured the following powerful images.

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

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

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Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.
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Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
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Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.