The number of refugees from North-West Nigeria seeking safety in the neighbouring Niger Republic has doubled to over 40,000 persons over the last ten months, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said.
The refugees are those displaced by violence in states in the North-west and are separate from the tens of thousands displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east.
In a report published on its website on Friday, the UNHCR spokesperson, Babar Baloch, said on September 11 alone, more than 2,500 people fled when civilians were targeted by armed groups in Sokoto, Zamfara, and Katsina.
The humanitarian group also said it was working with authorities in the Niger Republic to provide basic assistance and register the new arrivals of Nigerian refugees.
According to the UN, the violence by armed groups in North-western Nigeria has led to a new humanitarian emergency in Niger’s border regions ”with Nigeria, many of them women and children moving to more than 50 villages in Guidan Roumji, Guidan Sori and Tibiri of the Niger Republic.
“On September 11 alone, more than 2,500 people fled when civilians were targeted by armed groups on the Nigerian side. As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Sokoto State, we are expecting more refugees to arrive in Niger.
“People are seeking safety from indiscriminate attacks unleashed by organised armed groups on men, women and children alike. There have been frequent reports of kidnappings, torture, extortion, murder, sexual violence and destruction of houses and property.
“Fleeing villagers report the attackers to be well-equipped and well organized, and that some refugees have been chased over the border into Niger. Some village chiefs in Niger are also reported to have been targeted and killed by the armed groups.”
According to the UN statement, a 14-year-old refugee told UNHCR that attackers killed more than 50 people in her village, including her family members.
The minor whose name was not mentioned in the release, said her father and two young sisters, aged three and four, were also shot dead, while her five-year-old brother was killed with a machete. Attackers stole all her family’s belongings.
To address the violence, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) launched operation “Tsaftan Daji” (Clean Forest), to flush out the armed bandits in the North-West. The army also has an ongoing operation in the region.
Various state governments in the North-west including those of Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina are also negotiating with the armed bandits and have done prisoner swaps with them. The swaps have involved the release of arrested armed bandits in exchange for tens of persons kidnapped by the bandits.