Anti-insurgent operations and general insecurity have uprooted thousands of people in north-eastern Nigeria, with more than 6,000 of them fleeing to neighbouring Niger for safety, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.
Those that have spoken to UNCHR say they fled for fear of being caught in the Government-led crackdown on insurgents linked to the Boko Haram sect, particularly in the Baga area of northern Nigeria, close to the Niger border, spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
"Refugees report that air strikes by Government forces are continuing from time to time, and that planes are regularly flying over the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where the state of emergency has been in force since May 14th," he stated.
"People arriving in Niger also mention the increasing presence of roving armed bandits in several states in Nigeria. Rising commodity prices coupled with pre-existing food insecurity is also becoming a major concern for the populations of the affected States."
Niger has so far received 6,240 people, comprising Nigerian nationals, returning Niger nationals and people of other nationalities, according to UNHCR. There have also been arrivals in Cameroon and Chad in the past weeks.
"New arrivals are either renting houses or staying with host families, who are themselves living in very precarious conditions," noted Mr. Edwards. UNHCR staff who have visited several border villages hosting new arrivals also met some Nigerian families living out in the open, under trees.
The presence of the newcomers is also putting a strain on meagre local food and water resources, the agency said, noting that Niger, a country in the Sahel, itself struggles with food insecurity due to years of drought.
"UNHCR plans to deliver some relief to the new arrivals as well as to the host community. We are also helping the local authorities to register new arrivals," Mr. Edwards said.
Meanwhile, UNHCR said the security situation in Nigeria remains "extremely difficult." It added that information about the humanitarian situation and displaced people in the north-east is limited since it is not present in the areas that are under a state of emergency, due to the prevailing insecurity.