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Thousands Flee Violence in Northwestern Nigeria for Safety in Niger 


FILE - A man walks along a path in the Hamdallaye refugee camp amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Niger, July 29, 2020. (UNHCR/Selim Meddeb/Handout via Reuters)

The United Nations refugee agency reports surging violence in northwest Nigeria has prompted more than 7,500 refugees to flee for safety into neighboring Niger.

Wanton violence by armed groups and communal clashes in northwestern Nigeria have been going on for years. But U.N. refugee agency spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says there has been an alarming spike in recent months.

He says the number of violent incidents in the first two months of 2021 is higher than the number recorded for all of last year.

“Refugees describe gruesome murders, kidnappings for ransom, and looted villages. Many have also been caught up in clashes between farmers and herders as well as vigilantism, as self-defense groups are being set up in most villages. People fleeing are in urgent need of water, food, shelter, and health services. Most have fled empty handed in the bush to save their lives,” he said.

The safety they have found, however, is of a tenuous nature as the Maradi region in southern Niger. Cheshirkov says the region hosts nearly 100,000 internally displaced people. He says rising violence inside Niger this year has forced 3,500 of its citizens to flee their homes.

“UNHCR teams in Niger have recorded a spike in deadly violence inside Maradi itself, with more casualties and serious incidents reported in January and February 2021 then in the whole of the second half of 2020… This is one of the reasons why we are working with the Nigerien authorities to relocate people away from these border areas,” he said.

Since 2019, Cheshirkov says some 11,320 refugees have been relocated to other, safer villages where basic aid and services are available.

He says the UNHCR and partners also have been better able to provide critically needed relief, including water, health, sanitation and education for the displaced and their hosts. This, he says, has eased the pressure on local communities who themselves suffer from limited means.

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