Increasing kidnappings and attacks on civilians in northeast Nigeria has displaced well over 200-thousand people inside the country, and caused tens of thousands of others to flee across borders. The UNHCR calls the brutality and frequency of the attacks unprecedented.
Reports of abductions, killings and attacks on schools and villages have now become commonplace in northeastern Nigeria. The recent kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the militant group Boko Haram has received worldwide attention. But the incident is one of many.
Next week marks the first anniversary of the declaration of a state of emergency in three Nigerian states: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
UNHCR spokesperson Helene Caux recently visited northeastern Nigeria and south Niger. She said, “A lot of the people we have interviewed, whether in Nigeria or in neighboring countries, who are refugees, are telling us that they cannot bear anymore violence. And so they decide to flee.”
Caux said the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency is keeping track of the number of displaced.
“There are 250,000 people, who would be now internally displaced within Nigeria, mainly in the three northeastern states. Some of the people, who are victims of violence, fled to neighboring countries – to Cameroon, Chad and Niger. We estimate about 61,000 persons, who have fled to the neighboring countries,” she said.
People, she said, are fleeing for their lives.
“Some of them have been witnessing attacks on their family members, the killings of their family members or friends. So as you can imagine it’s something which is really traumatic. When people are telling you their villages have been completely razed, it’s something really overwhelming. They talk to you also about grenades, which are being launched into crowded markets and you have dozens of people who are being killed and with their livestock.”
Many also have had their crops burned.
Caux recently spoke to a young man, who survived an attack on his school in Yobe State.
“He told me that a group of insurgents came to his school at night. They gathered all the young men or the students in one room. They told them that going to school was forbidden and they started to shoot at the boys. The young man I talked to and who survived got two bullets in the stomach, two in the arms and one in the leg. He told me at the time that 40 students were killed during the attack, including 10 of his friends,” she said.
While he was recovering from his wounds, he says the same insurgents attacked the hospital, and he thought they had come to kill him. Instead, they raided the hospital’s medical supplies.
The UNHCR spokesperson said conditions at the borders of Niger, Chad and Cameroon can be chaotic, especially in south Niger.
“The border area remains very volatile. There are military operations going on also to try to contain the violence. Most of the refugees who are in South Niger are in the Diffa region, which is a very remote and arid area. We estimate that about 700 to 1,000 persons are arriving each week to this region of south Niger from Nigeria.”
Some have also reached remote areas on Lake Chad.
Caux said another area of concern is Cameroon’s Far North Region, which is across the border from Nigeria’s Borno State. On May 5th, an attack on a market there killed 100 people. In the past year, nearly 7,000 people have fled Borno State to Cameroon.
Not all the refugees are Nigerian. Some are migrant workers who are returning to their home countries to escape the violence. Some who cross the border are being arrested as authorities check to see whether any might belong to militant groups.