Thousands of Nigerian refugees who fled to southeast Niger to escape the Islamist group Boko Haram are in an “atrocious” situation, the United Nations says.
“There is a psychosis among the people who were expelled from their villages, their homes by Boko Haram. It’s an atrocious situation.” Toby Lanzer, UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, told AFP on Wednesday during a visit to Assaga, one of the largest Nigerian refugee camps in southeast Niger.
The camp, which has around 6,000 people, is about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the regional capital of Diffa, near the Boko Haram stronghold of restive northeast Nigeria.
“This is a very acute security crisis for those people, who are almost without hope,” Lanzer said. They were “living peacefully” when “all of a sudden, the Boko Haram arrive, force them out of their villages, steal their cattle,” he said. “I’ll make a very strong plea next week at the UN General Assembly and tell donors, ‘We really must help the people of Diffa’,” Lanzer said, as he paid tribute to UN agencies deployed in Niger.
In the Assaga camp, set up by the UN three months ago, many refugees live in abject poverty and sleep in makeshift shelters at the mercy of mosquitoes and bad weather, an AFP reporter saw. The first refugees were given tarpaulins and tents and regularly receive food rations, but more recent arrivals say they have not yet received any help at all.
“I have not eaten for days,” Mohamed Ari complained to AFP. Lanzer was visiting to assess the humanitarian situation in the Diffa region, which has been weakened by successive years of drought and flood and already hosts more than 150,000 refugees who fled the violence in Nigeria since April 2013, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Niamey.
Since February 2015, Diffa has suffered several deadly attacks in Boko Haram raids from neighbouring Lake Chad. In six years of bloodshed, the Boko Haram insurgency to carve out an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has left at least 15,000 dead and left more than two million others homeless.