Saturday, January 25, 2014

Nigeria: Fighting in northern Nigeria sparks new refugee exodus to nearby States

Young girls attend a maths class at a school in Niger's Diffa region, where more than half of the students are Nigerians who have been displaced by fighting. Photo: UNHCR/K. Mahoney

UN - 24 January 2014 – Nearly 6,000 people have fled fighting in Nigeria to neighbouring Cameroon and Niger in the past 10 days after reporting that several people had been killed, their villages bombed and at least two villages burned to the ground, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said today.

“We continue to urge States in the region to keep their borders open for Nigerians who are fleeing their country and may need international protection,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva. “We are also advising against any forced returns.”

Nigeria's northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe have been under states of emergency since May 2013 as the army fights Islamist Boko Haran rebels, and the continuing violence has displaced thousands of people.

Of the more than 4,000 who fled to Cameroon since mid-January, most are in the Logone-et-Chari area of Far North Region. With this new influx, there are now 12,428 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, according to local Cameroonian authorities. Of that number 2,183 have so far been moved to a UNHCR camp at Minawao, 130 kilometres further inland.

“Together with partner agencies we are providing refugees with shelter, health, sanitation, education, food, and other help,” Mr. Edwards said.

A UNHCR team in Cameroon's Far North Region has spoken with refugees from the area around Banki, a town just across the border in Nigeria's Borno State. “The refugees said their villages were bombed, that several people had been killed, and that at least two villages were burned to the ground,” Mr. Edwards said.

In Niger, 1,500 new refugees, mostly women and children, arrived in the Diffa region of south-east Niger, saying they fled a January 16 mosque attack in the village of Gashagar just across the border. Seven people were reportedly killed during the attack, and seven cars were burned as well as 60 shops. The refugees are being hosted by local communities, and UNHCR is sending relief aid.