Thousands flee violence in Nigeria

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Violence in north-west Nigeria forced 23 000 refugees to flee to Niger since April and raised concerns about deteriorating security, the UN refugee agency said.

Numbers of those fleeing to neighbouring Niger almost tripled from last year when the agency reported an influx of 20 000 following an insurgency and banditry in northern Nigeria which killed hundreds and displaced thousands.

The latest influx of mostly women and children came after attacks by gunmen in Nigeria’s Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states in April.

The deadliest attack claimed 47 lives in Katsina State, the agency said prompting air strikes by Nigerian security forces stretched tackling a decade-long insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram in north-east.

“We work closely with authorities in Niger to relocate at least 7 000 refugees to safety where water, food, shelter, access to health and other essential assistance can be provided,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told a media briefing.

Nigeria closed all land borders in March to curb the coronavirus pandemic, which infected over 4 600 people in the country with 150 deaths. It first shut parts of borders last year to fight smuggling but people could still cross.

The agency said refugees from Nigeria are allowed to seek protection in Niger despite border closures with people.

Baloch said around 19 000 Niger nationals are displaced in their own country and fearing insecurity in border areas. The refugees are in Niger’s southern Maradi region, the agency said.

Many are caught up in clashes blamed on farmers and herders over dwindling land in Nigeria which killed more people than the Boko Haram conflict.