Nigeria: New Boko Haram attacks force thousands to flee to Niger
An attack earlier this week on Damassak, a town in Nigeria's Borno State, killed up to 50 people and forced at least 3,000 to flee for their lives to Diffa region, in neighbouring Niger. Dammasak, which lies just a few kilometres from the Niger border, was reportedly captured by Boko Haram on 24 November.
Our teams in Diffa say that people are still arriving in Niger from Nigeria as a result of the attack. While most wait for boats to cross the Komadougou Yobé River separating the two countries, others try to swim across to safety. Local inhabitants in the area say they have seen people drowning while trying to cross the river. Others were reportedly shot by Boko Haram who chased them as far as the river banks. According to the new arrivals, many displaced, mostly women, children, elderly and some injured people, are still waiting on the Nigerian side of the river to cross over to Niger.
The new arrivals say that many civilians were killed during the attack on Damassak, especially young men, but that insurgents were also shooting at women and children. Some said that they believed the attack was executed in reprisal for the enrolment of young men in self-defense groups, which have been formed to fight the insurgents. These militias are known among the Kanuri, the main ethnic group in the region, as Ngora ("Young men with sticks") or JTF ("Joint Task Force").
Many children have been separated from their parents during the attack and the escape to Niger. In the closest town, Chetimari, children and adults alike are wandering around the makeshift settlements, searching for relatives. Refugees said they had no time to collect any of their belongings and had to leave everything behind. With its partners and the local community, UNHCR has been providing plastic sheeting and blankets to help people put up temporary shelters and against the night-time cold.
After the attack on the Nigerian village of Malan Fatori on 5 October, which prompted the flight of more than 1,000 people to Niger, Damassak is the second large attack occurring only a few kilometres away from the Nigerian-Niger border in less than two months. The increasing presence of the insurgents in close proximity to the border with Niger could lead to new displacements in the near future.
The regular influxes of Nigerian refugees and returning Niger nationals are placing a heavy burden on Diffa - a remote and economically underdeveloped region. According to authorities, more than 100,000 people have fled to Niger since May 2013, when the Nigerian Government declared a state of emergency in the north eastern States following repeated and increased attacks from Boko Haram. More than 30,000 people found refuge in the area in the past two months alone. While local inhabitants have generously shared their meager resources with the Nigerian refugees, we fear that the already fragile economic structure could collapse under the strain.
Violence in Nigeria has also pushed over 39,000 Nigerians to flee to Cameroon since then as well as 2,800 to Chad. In Nigeria, some 700,000 people are internally displaced in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, according to the Governmental National Emergency Management Agency, due to the violence in the north-east.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Dakar, Helene Caux on mobile +221 77 333 12 91
- In Niamey, Karl Steinacker on mobile + 227 92193146
- In Niamey, Benoit Moreno on mobile + 227 92192417
- In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl on mobile +41 79 255 9213