More than 10,000 people flee fresh attacks in Nigeria, seek shelter in Cameroon and Niger

News Stories, 2 September 2014

© UNHCR/JM.Awono
Nigerian women forced to flee their homeland work together to build a shelter at the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon, September 2 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reported that more than 10,000 people have fled fresh attacks by insurgent groups in north-east Nigeria and sought refuge in Niger and Cameroon, with some sleeping in schools and churches and children suffering from poor health.

"UNHCR is very concerned that even once they have crossed into Cameroon, they are still being pursued by insurgents and we have already started to relocate some of the refugees to a refugee camp where they can enjoy safer conditions," added UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards, briefing journalists in Geneva.

Local authorities say that in the last 10 days at least 9,000 people have arrived in Cameroon's Far North Region and more than 2,000 have sought refuge in Lake Chad islands belonging to Niger, while more people continue to arrive.

The new arrivals fled recurrent attacks in the past three weeks in the Gwoza area in Nigeria's Borno State, before reaching safety in Cameroon. Authorities report that 5,500 refugees have arrived in Kolofata, 3,000 in Kerawa and 370 in Mora, in the Mayo Sava and Logone-et-Chari districts. However, even upon arrival in Cameroon, they are not necessarily out of harm's way. On Sunday, insurgents attacked Kerawa town in Cameroon, forcing refugees and some local residents to flee further inland.

"Our teams have had limited access to the border areas these past weeks because of the increasing insecurity. Despite the volatile situation, we were able to go to Mora over the week end, where we met the new arrivals living in churches and schools and with host families," Edwards said.

.The refugees said everyone had fled and that their villages in north-east Nigeria were now empty. Immediate assistance has been provided by the authorities, NGO Caritas, UNHCR and the host community.

In the Cameroonian border village of Koza, the UNHCR team met with some refugee women. "They told us that when their homes were attacked some days ago in Gokou, in Nigeria's Borno State, their husbands had sent them with their children to hide in the surrounding mountains," Edwards said.

"They later saw heavy smoke coming from their village, which made them fear insurgents had burnt their homes. They waited until night time and had to walk some 30 kilometres to reach Koza. They have had no news of their husbands," he added.

On Monday, UNHCR started to relocate 80 of the new refugees, mainly women and children, from Koza to the refugee camp of Minawao, some 120 kilometres from the border. The camp is hosting some 6,000 Nigerian refugees who were transferred from the border in 2013 and 2014.

In early August, relocation to the camp had been suspended due to insecurity. "Today [Tuesday], security allowing, we will start the relocation of refugees from Mora and Kolofata to the camp," UNHCR's Edwards said.

The total number of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon now stands at some 39,000 according to local authorities, including 19,633 who have been registered by UNHCR.

Insurgents crossed the border last week and attacked villages on the Cameroon side, prompting some 1,700 local inhabitants to flee further inland to villages near the border with Chad. Villagers fled in panic after insurgents slit the throats of three people in a church in Assighassia.

The attackers also burnt down a police and a gendarmerie stations, a local cotton company, and stole some 400 cows. UNHCR is extremely concerned that attacks from insurgents seem to also now target civilians in Cameroon territory.

Niger is hosting more than 50,000 forcibly displaced people who have arrived from Nigeria since May 2013. Inside Nigeria, some 645,000 people are displaced in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states, as a result of the violence.

By Djerassem Mbaiorem in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and Hélène Caux in Dakar, Senegal




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

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

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.