23,000 Flee Northwest to Niger over Violence

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By Adedapo Adesanya

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that about 23,000 Nigerians in Northwest Nigeria fled to the Republic of Niger since April due to violence.

The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday that the security situation in the part of the country has deteriorated and raised concerns towards it.

The numbers fleeing to neighbouring Niger have almost tripled from last year when the agency reported the first influx of 20,000 people, following an insurgency and banditry in northern Nigeria which killed hundreds and displaced thousands.

The latest number largely women and children came after attacks by gunmen in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states during April.

According to UNHCR, the deadliest attack yet in the region claimed 47 lives in Katsina State, prompting air strikes by Nigerian security forces, tackling a decade-long insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast.

UNHCR spokesperson, Mr Babor Baloch, said the agency was working towards provision of basic needs to the displaced persons.

“We are working closely with authorities in Niger to relocate at least 7,000 refugees to safety where water, food, shelter, access to health and other essential assistance can be provided.

“Discussions are also ongoing with the authorities to recognize on a prima facie basis the refugees fleeing Nigeria and arriving in the region,” he said.

Nigeria closed all borders in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 4,600 people in the country with 150 deaths.

It first shut its land borders last year to fight smuggling, but people could still cross both ways.

The agency said refugees from Nigeria are being allowed to seek protection in Niger despite border closures with people in need of food, shelter and basic services including healthcare.

Mr Baloch said around 19,000 Niger nationals have been displaced in their own country as they fled, fearing insecurity in border areas. The refugees are found in Niger’s southern Maradi region, the agency said.

Many have also been caught up in clashes blamed on farmers and herders over dwindling land in Nigeria which have killed more people than the Boko Haram conflict.

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