Despite continued denial by the Nigerian government, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday insisted that no fewer than 6,000 people mostly women and children have fled north-east Nigeria into neighbouring countries owing military operations that is ongoing in that zone sequel to the declaration of emergency rule.
On May 14, 2913, President Goodluck Jonathan took a pragmatic step towards putting a permanent stop to the activities of the Islamist insurgents by declaring state of emergency in three north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Ever since, there has been massive deployment of troops to the affected areas.
The UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards speaking at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, said about 155 Nigerians are now seeking asylum in Chad.
He stated, “The crisis in northeastern Nigeria has forced more than 6,000 mainly women, children and elderly people to seek safety in neighbouring Niger. Those UNHCR has spoken to say they escaped 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.
“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.
“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 (2,692) returning Niger nationals (3,544), and 94 people of other nationalities (mainly Chadians). New arrivals have settled mainly in Bosso, Diffa, Kablewa, Maine, Tam, Tcoukoujani and Garin Amadou. Once their families are secure in Niger, men are returning to Nigeria to work and to sustain their families’ needs.
“Many new arrivals have walked into Niger, taking refuge in villages located only a few kilometers away from the border. Others, who fled areas located as far as 300 kilometers away such as Maidougouri in Nigeria, have used cars or motor-cycles.
“New arrivals are either renting houses or staying with host families, who are themselves living in very precarious conditions. UNHCR staff have who visited several border villages hosting new arrivals also met some Nigerian families living out in the open, under trees.
“Although the local population has welcomed those who have newly arrived, the presence of newcomers is also putting a strain on meager local food and water resources. 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.
“UNHCR has also seen arrivals in Cameroon and Chad in the past weeks. There are 155 Nigerian asylum seekers in Chad along with 716 Chadian nationals. In Cameroon there are 1,200 returned nationals, Edwards said.
He also lamented that the security situation in the affected areas describing it as “extremely difficult”. The UNHCR spokesman said further, saying the “Agency is not present in the parts of the northeast that are under a state of emergency, due to the prevailing insecurity. Information about the humanitarian situation and displaced people in the northeast is consequently limited.
“In Adamawa State, insecurity is reportedly worst in the areas of military operations close to the Cameroonian border. Most of the Northeast suffers from chronic and periodic insecurity due to conflict and insurgent activities (from Borno State to Kaduna Sate).