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  • Nigerian refugees are being allowed to seek protection in Niger despite border closures due to COVID-19. 

    Nigerian refugees are being allowed to seek protection in Niger despite border closures due to COVID-19.  | Photo: UNHCR

Published 12 May 2020

Those who were forced to cross the border to Niger are mostly women and children arriving with horrific details of extreme violence.

An estimated 23,000 Nigerians fled their country since April, seeking asylum in neighboring Niger as the security situation continues to deteriorate amid brutal violence in northwest Nigeria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday.

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"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," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters.

"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.

Those who were forced to cross the border to Niger are mostly women and children arriving with horrific details of extreme violence after attacks were launched on civilians during April by organized armed groups -other than the Boko Haram- in Nigeria's Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara states.

The attacks killed 47 people in Katsina State, the U.N. refugee agency said, prompting airstrikes by the Nigerian Armed Forces already stretched tackling a 10-year-long rebellion by the Boko Haram in the northeast.

Nigerian refugees are being allowed to seek protection in Niger despite border closures due to COVID-19. 

The latest influx takes the total number of refugees fleeing that part of Nigeria to more than 60,000 since the first influx, in April last year.

Niger is already hosting more than half a million refugees from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, according to a recent U.N. report. This latest arrival of refugees is likely to worsen the humanitarian emergency in the country's border regions.

Baloch said approximately an additional 19,000 Niger nationals fearing and fleeing the same insecurity in the border areas, have become displaced inside their own country.

Nigeria has been confronted over the past 30 years by multiple security challenges, including the resilient Boko Haram insurgency along with long-running discontent and militancy in the Niger Delta, and increasing violence between herders and farming communities. 

Violence, particularly by the Boko Haram rebellion, has displaced more than two million people, created a massive humanitarian crisis and prompted the rise of civilian self-defense groups that pose new policy dilemmas and possible security risks, according to the International Crisis Group.

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