Nigerian refugee Boussam installs a pole to start building a shelter in Sayam Forage camp, in Niger’s Diffa region. Photo: UNHCR/Hélène Caux
By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in south-east Niger following near back-to-back attacks since this past Friday by Boko Haram insurgents on the town of Bosso in the troubled Diffa region, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
“As of this morning, the situation in Bosso is unclear,” spokesperson Adrian Edwards of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told the regular bi-weekly news briefing in Geneva, recalling that UNHCR had warned this past month that the security and humanitarian situation was worsening in the Diffa region.
“We have not been working directly in Bosso since February 2015, when the insurgency spread from Nigeria to Niger, but we operate through local implementing partners to deliver help,” he added.
The attacks occurred on Friday, 3 June; Sunday, 5 June; and Monday, 6 June.
Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR is working with authorities and partners on a coordinated response to the displacement, and that an emergency team will be deployed to the Diffa region this week.
The most recent attacks follow rising violence in and around Bosso in recent weeks. An assault on 31 May in the nearby town of Yebi that killed nine people forced an estimated 15,000 residents and displaced people to seek shelter in Bosso. Many had been evacuated a year ago from islands in Lake Chad for security reasons, the spokesperson noted.
An estimated 50,000 people fled Friday’s attack, mainly walking westward to Toumour, some 30 kilometres west of Bosso. Many people are traumatized and worried about their safety, and some are sleeping in the open and urgently need shelter and other assistance, Mr. Edwards said.
Some of the displaced have moved on from Toumour and are heading to the town of Diffa, which is located 140 kilometres west of Bosso, and northward towards Kabelawa, where a camp for the internally displaced is near capacity with some 10,000 people.
“The welfare of these people and others forced to flee the violence in Bosso is of great concern,” Mr. Edwards said.
“Insecurity and lack of access have long hampered humanitarian operations in parts of the Diffa region, though Bosso is the only area where we do not implement projects directly,” he added.
There are at least 240,000 displaced people in Diffa region, including Nigerian refugees, returnees and the internally displaced. Before the latest attack on Bosso, one in every three inhabitants of the Diffa region was forcibly displaced.
Since February 2015, UNHCR has been providing protection and assistance to the displaced in Bosso through local and international non-governmental partners.
Mr. Edwards stressed that additional support from the donor community is urgently required.
“This is a desperately poor area where the general insecurity has destroyed the socio-economic fabric. The self-reliance capacity of the displaced and their hosts is extremely limited,” he said.
The attacks on Bosso came just ahead of the start of a high-level meeting from Monday to Wednesday in Abuja to discuss the major protection challenges in the Lake Chad basin, including Niger.
Organized by the Government of Nigeria, with technical support from UNHCR, the dialogue participants include senior officials from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
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