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Boko Haram Targets Civilians in Deadly Attacks in South-East Niger

FILE - A soldier stands in guard at the Boudouri site for displaced persons outside the town of Diffa, in southeastern Niger, June 18, 2016.

The United Nations refugee agency reports tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people in Niger’s Diffa region are suffering immense hardships as violent attacks by Boko Haram increase in frequency and intensity.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, last month 88 civilians in Niger’s border areas were killed by Boko Haram, the Nigeria-based Islamist militant group. The spike in violence, it says, has forced more than 18,000 people to flee their homes, many for the second or third time.

Large numbers have fled to Diffa town in search of safety, adding to the heavy burden of this overcrowded area. Since 2015, nearly 250,000 people, about half of them refugees from Nigeria, have sought protection from Boko Haram in Diffa.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the situation has become untenable. He told VOA his agency is working with local authorities to immediately relocate 10,000 refugees away from the dangerous border area.

“We are trying to bring them to Sayam Forage camp, which already has an existing refugee population and for the part of the remaining population, we are trying to work with the local authorities and our humanitarian partners to find alternative solutions for them,” he said.

The camp already is hosting more than 15,000 refugees. Baloch said it is hard to pin down the reasons behind Boko Haram’s more aggressive actions in Niger.

“We understand that defense and security forces have been going after the Boko Haram militants and there have been attacks against defense and security forces as well. Now, we have a situation where civilians are caught in this crossfire or even being specifically targeted by the Boko Haram,” he said.

Baloch says many refugees are returning to Nigeria because of the increased insecurity in the Diffa region and difficulty in getting the humanitarian assistance they need. He said the UNHCR is doing what it can to provide aid to the refugees.

For now, the agency is providing psychosocial support to help the newly displaced, who Baloch describes as very traumatized. He said the women and children are in particularly bad shape.