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Thousands of Nigerians Flee Boko Haram Attacks

FILE - An unidentified woman who fled her home following an attack by Islamist militants, in Mubi, prepares a meal at the camp for internally displaced people in Yola, Nigeria.

The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of refugees are fleeing across borders in the wake of deadly attacks by Boko Haram militants in northeast Nigeria. In Chad alone, UNHCR says, about 7,300 refugees have arrived in the past 10 days.

Attacks by Boko Haram in and around the town of Baga over the past week are just the latest vicious onslaughts by this militant group. Hundreds of people reportedly have been killed, and most of the town’s inhabitants have been forced to flee.

The United Nations refugee agency says the more than 7,000 refugees who have crossed into western Chad are staying with local communities in villages. Spokesman Adrian Edwards says the Chadian government has asked for help, and UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies have begun distributing relief items to the refugees.

“Chadian authorities visited the area on Thursday. They requested UNHCR help with the relocation of more than 1,000 refugees who are reportedly stranded on Kangala, an island in Lake Chad. The group recently arrived there, fleeing the general insecurity in northeast Nigeria. With the recent influxes, Chad is now hosting more than 10,000 refugees," said Edwards.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is a sin," launched a military campaign to establish an Islamic state in 2009. Since then, the militant group has killed thousands of civilians, abducted thousands of children and reportedly has sold hundreds of girls into slavery. The United Nations estimates nearly one million people are internally displaced.

UNHCR reports about 135,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring countries. Around 35,000 have gone to Cameroon. Prior to the recent influxes, Chad had 2,800 refugees. UNHCR says about 100,000 Nigerians have fled to Niger since May 2013.

Refugee spokesman Edwards says the UNHCR has started to relocate refugees from the Niger border at Gagamari further inland to the Sayam Forage camp in Diffa region.

“So far, 336 refugees have been moved in three convoys since the end of last year. More convoys are planned over the next few days. The refugees are among the thousands of people who fled to the Gagamari area following November’s attack on Damassak in Nigeria…Not all refugees are, however, choosing to be relocated away from the border. Some are staying there in the hope they will be able to return home when the situation calms," he said.

Boko Haram captured Damassak, a town in Nigeria’s Borno State, on November 24. The militants reportedly killed up to 50 people and forced at least 3,000 to flee for their lives to Diffa region in Niger.