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More Than 1,000 Chadian Migrants Flee Fighting in Nigeria

Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.

Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports more than 1,000 Chadian migrants including, unaccompanied children, have fled from violence in Nigeria to a remote area along the Chad-Nigerian border.

A joint IOM Chadian assessment team traveled to the area a couple of days ago and discovered the group living in deplorable conditions and in desperate need of help.

The International Organization for Migration says the migrants told the aid workers who found them they had fled from violent clashes between the extremist Boko Haram Islamic group and the Nigerian military.

The migrants said they had traveled across Lake Chad by boat from the Nigerian villages of Douri and Maday. And, from there, they said it took them about a week to walk to the village of Ngouboua, about 30 kilometers from the Nigerian border.

The migrants are completely destitute, said Qasim Sufi, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Chad.

“So, everybody was running for their lives, " said Sufi. "The villages have been burned down, nothing remains. People are exhausted. They are hot. They ran away from everything they had. They are dehydrated. They do not have food. They do not have anything.”

The returnees are finding shelter along Chad’s Lake region, which is experiencing food shortages. Sufi said the migrants are surviving on handouts from local inhabitants and a team that was in the area saw several children begging for food.

Some people are sleeping in makeshift huts, he said. Others are living in the open without warm clothing to protect them from the night cold, and others have left the area to join their families.

Sufi said the vast majority, a group of more than 800 people, remain. The group includes a large number of unaccompanied children aged between 6 and 14, he said.

“Normally, Chadians have the habit to send their children to Nigeria for Koranic, for religious education. And, also, there are people from the southern part of Chad who are Christians and Animists and who have gone there for work, for cultivation. They are farmers,” said Sufi.

The migrants say the Nigerian military went through their villages looking for Boko Haram rebels, Sufi said. And he said they claimed the military burned down their villages and that several people died. Sufi could not confirm this.

More people are arriving from Nigeria every day and Sufi adds he does not know how this crisis will evolve. There are plans to set up a small monitoring unit to help transport people who are exhausted from their journey to a place where they can be assisted.

IOM is appealing for international help. Agency officials say the migrants need food, water, shelter, and medical care. They need everything.