The United Nations refugee agency is reporting that thousands of people have fled a government-led crackdown on radical Islamist militant group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria to seek safety in neighboring Niger.
According to a UNHCR report, tens of thousands of people have reportedly fled since the campaign began in May, more than 6,000 of whom — mainly women, children and the elderly — are currently sheltering north of the Nigerian border.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says refugees are reporting ongoing airstrikes by government forces in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
“People arriving in Niger also mention the increased presence of roving armed bandits in several states in Nigeria," he said. "Rising commodity prices coupled with pre-existing food insecurity is also becoming a major concern. Many new arrivals have walked across the border taking refuge in villages located just a few kilometers from the border itself. Others who fled areas located as far as 300 kilometers away have used cars or motorcycles.”
Although Niger's local population is welcoming refugees, Edwards says the presence of newcomers is already straining meager food and water supplies.
“We are working on the grounds to help those people already affected by this in neighboring countries," he said, explaining that the ongoing instability may swell the number of displaced people. "We at this stage do not have a planning figure for an estimate of how significant or how large this displacement may go. I think it is a little too early for that.”
Edwards says UNHCR is not present in the parts of northeast Nigeria under a state of emergency because of the prevailing insecurity information about the humanitarian situation and displaced people in the northeast remains limited.