Refugees fleeing attacks in north eastern Nigeria, UNHCR watching for new displacement

Briefing Notes, 9 May 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 9 May 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is alarmed at the recent wave of attacks on civilians in northeast Nigeria. The brutality and frequency of these attacks is unprecedented. The past two months have seen multiple kidnappings and deaths, creating population displacement both inside Nigeria and into neighbouring countries.

Refugees and internally displaced people alike are reporting acts of extreme violence, and showing clear signs of distress and fear. Some have witnessed friends or family members being randomly singled out and killed in the streets. People speak of homes and fields being burned to the ground, with villages completely razed, or grenades being launched into crowded markets killing people and livestock. There is mention of people being caught in fighting between insurgents and the armed forces, arbitrary arrests under the suspicion of belonging to insurgent groups, and other serious alleged crimes including, reportedly, summary executions.

Terrorized students who had survived attacks on their schools in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states have told UNHCR how they saw friends being killed or kidnapped. From media reports the April 14th abduction of more than 200 girls in a school in Chibok in Borno state is just one in a series of similar kidnappings from schools in northeast Nigeria in recent months.

Next week will see the first anniversary of Nigeria's declaration of a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. In all 250,000 people are now internally displaced, according to the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Some 61,000 others have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Most are Niger nationals who were living in Nigeria, but 22,000 are Nigerians who have been made refugees by the crisis.

The situation in southern Niger is particularly difficult, with poor security and remoteness compounding the difficulties of provide humanitarian help. In the Diffa region, just across the border from Nigeria, between 700 and 1,000 people are arriving each week. These people are fleeing attacks by insurgents or out of fear of retaliatory action by the armed forces. UNHCR teams in the area say 1,500 people have recently arrived in a single village to the south of Diffa town following an attack on the other side of the border by six insurgents on 20 April. Some lost everything in the attack: 35 houses and 25 shops were burned, food stocks were set on fire, and two men were wounded. At present the refugees are staying in abandoned houses that will be at risk of flooding when the rainy season starts in June-July. We are working with our partners to relocate the refugees to a drier envi ronment.

Including the Diffa region and villages and other sites on Lake Chad, some 100 kilometres to the east, UNHCR and its partner the International Rescue Committee have registered 15,700 people over the past six weeks. These are people who have fled the attacks of recent months, mainly in Borno state. At present we are monitoring the situation for possible new displacement in light of ongoing military operations against suspected insurgents just across the border.

A second area of potential new displacement is across the border from Borno state in Cameroon's Far North Region across the border from Gamboru Ngala in Borno state. Media reports say more than 100 people were killed during a 5 May market day in Gamboru Ngala town. Some 6,800 Nigerian refugees have arrived in the Far North Region since May of last year. 2,500 of these have been relocated to Minawao camp, 150 kilometers away from the volatile border area.

Neighbouring Chad has seen 550 persons arriving from Nigeria over the past year.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dakar: Hélène Caux (Regional) on mobile + 221 77 333 1291
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
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New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

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

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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.