UNHCR concerned about displaced Nigerians, calls on neighbouring countries to keep borders open

Press Releases, 29 May 2013

The UN refugee agency on Wednesday voiced concern about the safety and welfare of people displaced in northern Nigeria by the activities of the militant Boko Haram group and the government's response. UNHCR also urged Nigeria and other governments in the region to offer protection to the internally displaced or those seeking asylum.

Reports from the north indicate that many people have been left internally displaced and others have fled across borders and sought shelter in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

"UNHCR remains concerned for the safety of the civilian population, especially those who may be forced to flee from their homes in search of safety," said George Okoth-Obbo, director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau.

In Niger, UNHCR has confirmed the arrival of at least 2,400 people from Nigeria. Elsewhere, reports suggest that Nigerians may have been prevented from entering Cameroon because of measures taken to prevent the infiltration of armed groups. UNHCR is in contact with the Cameroon authorities to verify the reports and their impact on legitimate asylum-seekers.

"The authorities have a legitimate responsibility to secure national security. At the same time, it is vital to ensure the safety and protection of civilians caught in this situation and their right to seek asylum in neighbouring countries," Okoth-Obbo said.

"We call on the concerned governments in the region, which are all signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to allow civilians fleeing insecurity or other risks to enter their territory."

As the activities of Boko Haram and the government response continue, humanitarian agencies fear further displacement and an influx of Nigerian asylum-seekers, or even third country nationals, into neighboring countries.

UNHCR stands ready to assist the arriving refugees in neighbouring countries and is prepositioning emergency relief supplies to assist new arrivals now and in the future.

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