Violence in northwest Nigeria has forced about 23,000 refugees to flee to Niger since April and has raised concerns about the deteriorating security situation, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday. .
The number of people fleeing to neighboring Niger almost tripled compared to last year when the agency reported the first influx of 20,000 people following an insurgency and banditry in northern Nigeria which has killed hundreds and displaced thousands.
The latest influx of mostly women and children came after attacks by gunmen in the Nigerian states of Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara in April.
The deadliest attack left 47 people dead in Katsina state, the agency said, causing air strikes by Nigerian security forces that had already spread against a decade-long insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast.
“We are working closely with the Niger authorities to resettle at least 7,000 refugees in safe places … where water, food, shelter, access to health and all other essential assistance can be provided, “said UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch at a press conference.
“Discussions are also underway with the authorities to recognize at first glance the refugees fleeing Nigeria and arriving in the region,” he said.
Nigeria closed all of its land borders in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 4,600 people in the country with 150 deaths. It first closed parts of its borders last year to fight smuggling, but people could still go back and forth.
The agency said that refugees from Nigeria were allowed to seek protection in Niger despite the border closures with people in need of food, shelter and basic services, including health care.
Baloch said that around 19,000 Nigerien nationals were displaced in their own country while fleeing, fearing insecurity in border areas. The refugees are in the southern region of Maradi in Niger, the agency said.
Many have also been caught in clashes blamed on farmers and ranchers on declining land in Nigeria, who have killed more people than the Boko Haram conflict.