UNHCR issues warning against forced returns to Northeast Nigeria amid rising violence

Briefing Notes, 29 October 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Dan McNorton to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 29 October 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With the recent escalation of violence in Northeast Nigeria, UNHCR is today advising States against forced returns of people to the region. We are also urging that borders be kept open for Nigerians fleeing the country and who may be in need of international protection. Our recommendations are contained in a newly issued Return Advisory, which seeks to ensure that humanitarian and asylum principles are upheld in light of the worsening security situation in north-eastern Nigeria.

Conflict between the Nigerian army and insurgents in Nigeria's north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe has led to deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions in the region, which has been under the a state of emergency since May. Violence is estimated to have displaced an estimated 5,000 people within the region, but as humanitarian access has been hampered by the attacks, UNHCR believes the actual number of people affected could be significantly higher.

Some 10,000 Nigerians have also crossed into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in recent months. Most around 8,100 have sought refuge in Cameroon, according to local authorities who say that Nigerians are continuing to arrive. The number of Nigerian refugees in Niger is 2,700, and in Chad 150.

UNHCR has been alarmed at reports of the attempted forced return of 111 people from Cameroon to Nigeria on 5 October. They were expelled from the village of Amchidé, in the Far North region of Cameroon, to Adamawa state in Nigeria. During the incident 15 people were killed and another seven wounded. The remaining 89 individuals immediately fled back to Cameroon and were detained. UNHCR is working with the Government of Cameroon to assess whether there are people in the group in need of international protection.

In light of the security situation in north-eastern Nigeria, people fleeing are likely to meet the criteria for refugee status as outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the OAU Convention. UNHCR's Return Advisory will remain in effect until the security and human rights situation in north-eastern Nigeria has improved sufficiently to permit a safe and dignified return.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi (on mission), Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
  • In Dakar, Kathryn Mahoney on mobile + 221 77 74 08 666
  • In Cameroon, Catherine Hamon Sharpe on mobile + 237 79 533 545
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 30 11



UNHCR country pages

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

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

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

Nigeria: Back to schoolPlay video

Nigeria: Back to school

When gun-toting Boko Haram insurgents attacked villages in north-eastern Nigeria, thousands of children fled to safety. They now have years of lessons to catch up on as they return to schools, some of which now double as camps for internally displaced people or remain scarred by bullets.
Nigeria: Homeless in their own countryPlay video

Nigeria: Homeless in their own country

Boko Haram's bloody insurgency made at least two million Nigerians homeless in their own country. As large swathes of the northeast remain no-go areas, UNHCR and other partners are providing vital aid, including bedding and cooking utensils to those driven into internal exile.
Cameroon: Escape from NigeriaPlay video

Cameroon: Escape from Nigeria

Attacks by Nigerian insurgents have spread to neighbouring countries in recent months, severely restricting the 'humanitarian space' aid organisations, like UNHCR, can operate in to help people made homeless by the unrest. The insurgents have also recently mounted a series of suicide attacks in Cameroon - the first such attacks in the country.