UNHCR concerned as hundreds flee attacks in Nigeria's Lake Chad region

News Stories, 11 March 2014

© UNHCR/C.Arnaud
A group of refugees gather in the yard of a local man in Bosso, Niger. During the night, they stay with other families in the area.

NIAMEY, Niger, March 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said it was increasingly alarmed at the humanitarian impact of continuing violence in north-eastern Nigeria and stressed the importance of protecting civilians.

Newly arrived refugees interviewed by UNHCR staff in Niger have spoken of atrocities on the islands and shores of Lake Chad in north-east Nigeria's Borno state.

"One woman described corpses strewn through houses and floating in the water. She said people feared staying even to bury their dead or find missing relatives. Others recounted fleeing a village shooting incident and said women and children were being kidnapped and taken away by unidentified assailants," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards, in Geneva, told journalists on Tuesday.

The latest attacks are reported to have begun in mid-February and were continuing five days ago, Edwards said. "In all some 2,000 people have crossed into south-east Niger's Diffa region over the past four weeks according to our partner, the International Rescue Committee," he added. In addition to the attacks on Lake Chad, some of the new arrivals have come from conflicted areas near Borno's state capital, Maiduguri.

"UNHCR reiterates to all parties to the conflict in north-eastern Nigeria the vital importance of protecting civilians from harm," Edwards stressed. The insurgency in the three north-eastern Nigerian states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno has displaced more than 470,000 people inside Nigeria. Refugees arriving in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger are in addition to this.

Since Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the three states in May 2013, more than 57,000 people have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Some 17,000 of these are registered Nigerian refugees. The rest are nationals of the surrounding countries who had been living in Nigeria for decades.

Niger has received the majority some 40,000 concentrated in the Diffa region, a desert in the country's eastern edge.

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Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Malians still fleeing to Niger

Malian refugees continue to arrive in Niger, fleeing fighting and general insecurity and political instability in their country. At the Mangaizé refugee site in northern Niger, some 3,000 refugees live in difficult conditions, bearing soaring temperatures during the day and wondering when they will be able to return home. The scarce water and food resources in the arid Sahel country also present a huge challenge for the refugees and local communities. More than 40,000 Malians have found refuge in Niger since January, when fighting erupted between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces. More than 160,000 Malians have arrived in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, while 133,000 are displaced within their country. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Niger, including Mangaizé, in early May with World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin to help focus world attention on the crisis and to seek help for the displaced.

Malians still fleeing to Niger

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

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