The United Nations says attacks by Boko Haram militants in far northeastern Nigeria have forced more than 11,000 people into neighboring Chad and may have displaced 150,000 overall, since seizing the town of Baga and nearby villages on January 3.
U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokesman Jens Laerkesaid information is sketchy because Baga and the surrounding areas have been inaccessible.
“The attacks in Baga town in Borno state on the 3rd and the 7th displaced an estimated 150,000 people. That is according to the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, because independent access to the area is simply not there at the moment. So, this figure has yet to be verified by the U.N.," said Laerke.
Laerke said most of the displaced are living with host families in various communities and are receiving assistance from state and local agencies, as well as the Nigerian Red Cross.
The U.N. refugee agency reports 11,320 people have fled to Chad since the attack on Baga.
UNHCR Spokesman William Spindler said 60 percent of the refugees are women and children, and 40 percent are men.
“There is also 84 non-accompanied children. Some of them are stranded on an island on Lake Chad, called Kangala island. There is about 2,000 of them there and UNHCR is transferring them to the mainland. This is all in Chad. And, this transfer has started,” said Spindler.
According to some reports, fighting since January 3 has killed as many as 2,000 people, but the Nigerian military disputes this figure.
The government has been conspicuously silent since the attack on Baga, but Monday Nigerian defense spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said at least 150 people had been killed.
The U.N. Human Rights Office condemned what it called the vicious, ruthless attacks against civilians by Boko Haram. Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said it is likely the number of people who have lost their lives is significant.
“We have not been able to verify that. What is clear is what eyewitnesses are saying," said Shamdasani. "One eyewitness was talking about how when he was fleeing, he was tripping on bodies the whole way. So, clearly a large number of people were killed.”
Shamdasani said the deliberate targeting of civilians is prohibited by international law. The U.N. agency is urging the Nigerian government to act swiftly to restore law and order.