Some 5,500 Nigerians flee to Cameroon and Niger

Briefing Notes, 24 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Recent clashes between the Nigerian Army and insurgent groups in the north-east of the country have led over 4,000 people to seek refuge in Cameroon since mid-January, while an estimated 1,500 people have fled to Niger.

A UNHCR team in Cameroon's Far North Region has spoken with refugees from the area around Banki, a town just across the border in Nigeria's Borno State. The refugees said their villages were bombed, that several people had been killed, and that at least two villages were burned to the ground.

Nigeria's northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe have been under states of emergency since May 2013. The continuing violence has displaced thousands of people. Of those who have fled to Cameroon, most are in the Logone-et-Chari area of Far North Region. With this new influx, there are now 12,428 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, according to local Cameroonian authorities. Of that number 2,183 have so far been moved to a UNHCR camp at Minawao, 130 kilometres further inland. Together with partner agencies we are providing refugees with shelter, health, sanitation, education, food, and other help.

In Niger, the new refugee arrivals have been in the Diffa region of south-east Niger. Refugees say they fled a January 16 mosque attack in the village of Gashagar just across the border. Seven people were reportedly killed during the attack, and seven cars were burned as well as 60 shops. The refugees are being hosted by local communities and most are women and children. UNHCR is sending relief aid.

A government census released last November showed that some 37,000 people including 8,000 Nigerians and 30,000 Niger nationals who were living in Nigeria have been displaced into the Diffa region since May 2013. In early December, the Niger government issued a decree granting temporary refugee status to Nigerians who fled the three states under states of emergency in Nigeria.

We continue to urge states in the region to keep their borders open for Nigerians who are fleeing their country and may need international protection. We are also advising against any forced returns. Our recommendations are contained in a Return Advisory issued last October, which seeks to ensure that humanitarian and asylum principles are upheld in light of the insecure situation in north-eastern Nigeria.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dakar: Helene Caux, Senior Public Information Officer, caux@unhcr.org, tel: + 221 77 333 1291
  • In Cameroon, Ndeye Ndour, Representative, ndour@unhcr.org, tel: +237 79516767
  • In Nigeria: Angele Dikongue-Atangana, Representative, dikongue@unhcr.org, tel: +234 8181530428
  • In Niger, Karl Steinacker, Representative, steinack@unhcr.org, tel: +227 92193146
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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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

Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

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.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

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.
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.