More than 36,000 refugees flee to Niger this year

More than 36,000 new refugees arrived in Niger between January and mid-April following the violence in Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, bringing their number to around 360,000, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday.

The High Commissioner for Refugees “is concerned about these rising numbers as attacks on civilians cause an increase in displacement in both frequency and violence,” UNHCR said.

“I fear that we will receive regular flows into Niger as long as there are problems in the countries around us,” said Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR representative in Niger.

The new arrivals from Mali are fleeing clashes between the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and the Touarag Movement for the Salvation of the Azawad (MSA) in the northern areas of Gao and Menaka, UNHCR says.

“Nigerians refugees are fleeing the increase in looting, property expropriation, assault and kidnappings by armed bandits in the states of Katsina and Sokoto, in the north-west of their country, while the displacement from Burkina Faso is caused by the continuing and widespread insecurity “, we read.

“Refugees, who are mostly women and children, need shelter, food and water, non-food items and access to basic services such as health care and education,” the agency said.

“The fact that they arrive and settle in some of the driest parts of Niger makes their situation even more precarious,” he said.

“Food prices have increased dramatically in Niger and the ongoing food security crisis triggered by a poor agricultural season in 2021 is putting already vulnerable refugees and local communities alike at further risk.”

About 580,000 forcibly displaced people live in Niger, including 360,000 refugees from neighboring countries.

Niger, especially its western part, is suffering from a severe food crisis caused by drought and jihadist violence that prevented farmers from cultivating their fields, according to the UN and Nigerian authorities.

The unstable regions of Tahou and Tillaberi – in the three-border region between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – have suffered deadly attacks since 2017 linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, also very active in Mali et au Burkina Faso.

The south-east of Niger, in particular the border region of Diffa with Nigeria, is prey to attacks by the Nigerian jihadist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in the province of West Africa (ISWAP).

During a visit to Niger and Nigeria on Tuesday and Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres promised refugees and internally displaced people in both countries that they could count on him to lobby for more international aid.

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