More than 7,000 flee to western Chad to escape attacks on key town in Nigeria
DAKAR, Senegal, January 9 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday reported that some 7,300 Nigerian refugees have arrived in western Chad in the past 10 days, fleeing attacks by insurgents on Baga town and surrounding villages in north-east Nigeria.
A spokesperson said UNHCR teams in Chad were at the border and seeking more information on the new arrivals and their needs. The attack this week on Baga left hundreds of people dead, according to media reports, and forced most of its surviving inhabitants to flee.
The newly arrived refugees in Chad are staying with local communities in villages around 450 kilometres north-west of the capital, N'Djamena. The Chadian government has requested the assistance of aid agencies to help the refugees - distribution of relief items has started.
UNHCR is assessing the protection situation and coordinating aid delivery. "We're already providing plastic sheets, jerry cans, mats, blankets and kitchen tools. Other humanitarian organizations are distributing aid too," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards noted in Geneva.
Chadian authorities visited the area on Thursday and asked UNHCR to help with the relocation of more than 1,000 refugees who are stranded on the island of Kangala on Lake Chad. The group arrived there recently after fleeing the general insecurity in north-east Nigeria. Chad is now hosting more than 10,000 refugees from Nigeria.
Meanwhile in Niger, UNHCR has started to relocate refugees from the border area of Gagamari to Sayam Forage camp, deeper inside Niger's Diffa region. A total 336 refugees have been moved in three convoys since December 30. More convoys are planned in the next days.
The refugees are among the thousands of people who fled to the Gagamari area in the past weeks following November's attack on the Nigerian town of Damassak. A second camp is scheduled to open in the next days in Kablewa, in the Lake Chad area of Niger, where thousands of people have found refuge in the past months.
On arrival in Sayam Forage camp, refugees are being registered by UNHCR and the National Eligibility Commission of Niger. They receive identity documents and basic relief items. Drinking water is being delivered by trucks and emergency latrines have been built. Not all refugees are choosing to be relocated away from the border. Despite the proximity of the conflict in Nigeria, many are hoping to return to their home villages when the situation calms down.
In December, the first results of a continuing government census, organized with UNHCR technical support, revealed that at least 90,000 people, including Niger nationals previously living in Nigeria, have found refuge in Niger's Diffa region since May 2013.
In all, the conflict in north-east Nigeria has led to the exodus of 135,000 people - around 35,000 Nigerians to Cameroon and 10,000 to Chad - and the displacement of at least 850,000 people within Nigeria's Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
By Hélène Caux in Dakar, Senegal and Benoit Moreno in Niamey, Niger