YOLA, NIGERIA - The United Nations refugee agency expressed concern that Niger is forcing Nigerians away from Lake Chad and their livelihoods in the wake of a deadly battle with the Boko Haram extremist group.
Thousands of Nigerians who worked in the fishing industry are being forced away from Lake Chad by the government of Niger and back into Nigeria, according to authorities on both sides of the border.
The order comes in the wake of an attack, by the Boko Haram extremist group on the island of Karamga in Lake Chad last month, that killed at least 74 Niger soldiers and civilians.
Alhaji Muhammed Kanar, northeast coordinator for Nigeria’s emergency management agency, said, “From the first three days, we received nearly 4,000. And in fact, another batch of nearly 3,000 or above, we are now in the process of registration.”
Boko Haram’s six-year rampage across northeastern Nigeria has displaced more than a million Nigerians.
The attack in Niger came three months after Nigeria’s northern neighbor joined a multinational offensive aimed at ending the extremist group's quest to impose strict Sharia law on northeastern Nigeria.
Ordered to leave
Karl Steinacker, Niger's representative for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said Niger's government last week ordered civilians living on islands in Lake Chad to leave.
Those islands are home to both Nigerians and Nigeriens working in the fishing industry. But, while citizens of Niger are moving into cities and towns, Nigerians have nowhere to go but back across the border, Steinacker said.
“People’s livelihoods have been destroyed because they have been told you can no longer live and work on the lake, and now they are told, OK, but in any event, we’ll take you back to your country. So they say yes… What other options do they have?" he said.
The migrant workers are being sent on trucks into Nigeria’s Yobe state, which has been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency. Steinacker said the returning Nigerians are being put at risk.
“Even if they are migrants, the question is, is it appropriate to send them back, and is it the right way it’s being handled, and I guess in both cases it is no," he said.
After a meeting on Thursday, Steinacker says government officials agreed to a plan with aid agencies that will better allow them to assist the returning Nigerians.