More than 26,000 people who fled in 2015 jihadist attacks in southeastern Niger were returned to their hometown, in the Diffa region, local authorities said on Friday.
"These are 26,573 people from 8,190 households who have already been transported to 19 villages at the end of the first phase of the IDP return operations," an official from the governorate of the Diffa region told AFP.
This region bordering Nigeria is home to 300,000 Nigerian refugees and internally displaced persons, driven out by the atrocities of the jihadists of the Nigerian group Boko Haram and its dissident branch of the Islamic State group in West Africa (Iswap), according to the U.N.
Nigerien public television showed images on Thursday evening of the last wave ending this first phase, of 11,733 people en route to their locality of origin in trucks chartered by the authorities.
These displaced people had found refuge in sites around more secure villages, U.N. camps or with relatives across the region.
Launched on June 20, this first phase of voluntary return concerns villages bordering the national road No. 1 "where the security situation is already favorable" for the return of the inhabitants, President Mohamed Bazoum indicated at the beginning of July during a stay in Diffa.
Other operations will be scheduled in order to return all the displaced to their villages "by December 2021," explained Mohamed Bazoum.
In particular, the government provided food assistance, shelters and mosquito nets -- to fight malaria -- to populations returning to their villages.
He also promised to rehabilitate health centers, drinking water distribution systems and dilapidated schools after the residents left.
Niger and the governor of Nigeria's Borno region, particularly hit by the attacks, have reached an agreement for the repatriation of 130,000 Nigerian refugees in Niger from November or December, President Bazoum said July 9.
Bazoum announced new military operations to "cleanse" villages where jihadists are located, who have "widened" their field of action in the southeast of the country.