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  • Niger receives hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence from neighboring countries.

    Niger receives hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence from neighboring countries. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 January 2020
Opinion

Nigerian authorities accuse them of having burnt down a refugee camp.

Nigerian police have arrested at least 335 refugees and migrants from Sudan, accusing them of setting ablaze a refugee camp outside the northern city of Agadez.

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Officials said the camp was burnt down after roughly 1,000 refugees, including women and children, protested in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Agadez, before being forcibly scattered.

These refugees and migrants have been camping in front of the U.N. office for the last 20 days, to protest against the way they say the U.N. agency treats them and to demand better conditions, healthcare, and education. The UNHCR for its part claims that these people are demanding resettlement in Europe. 

Niger's High Court ruled on Jan. 2 that the sit-in was illegal and told the refugees to leave the place "before it was too late".

Witnesses reported the sit-in was violently dispersed Saturday by security guards who shot in the air and employed force against the refugees and migrants who refused to leave. The following violence caused several injuries. 

After they arrived at the camp located some 15km outside Agadez, security forces fired tear gas at crowds, and a camp official said violence kept escalating as people protested. UNHCR officials said the asylum seekers then set the facility on fire.

One of the refugees told media that the vast majority of asylum seekers had been waiting at the camp, located in a desert where temperatures often reached 50 degrees Celsius in the summer, for more than two years without any clear update on their situation.

The group protesting outside the UNHCR office had traveled to Agadez on foot to submit a letter describing the deteriorating conditions at the facility.

An aid worker in the camp said that deplorable living conditions and long-delayed asylum procedures have frustrated people and resulted in their departure for Libya or Algeria or their search for other options. Last year, hundreds left, including some who decided to return to Sudan.

UNHCR representative in Niger Alessandra Morelli said the Regional Directorate for Civil Status, Refugees and Migration started to process asylum demands in September 2018, after long negotiations involving local authorities.

Since then, 184 refugee cards were delivered, with the asylum-seekers registered under UNHCR benefitting from temporary protection in Niger, which adopted an asylum law in 2015, and signed an agreement with the U.N. agency to host refugees and migrants from Libya as part of the Emergency Transit Mechanism project.

The landlocked West African nation is the poorest country in the world according to the U.N. human development index. It receives hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence in Nigeria as well as refugees from Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, among other countries.

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