Violence in various parts of the North-West zone forced an estimated 23,000 persons resident in the area to seek refuge in neighbouring Niger Republic last month, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has disclosed.
It said the number of fleeing persons from the region to Niger Republic rose to more than 60,000 since the influx began in April last year.
The UNHCR spokesperson, Babar Baloch, speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, on Wednesday, said since April 2019, 25 per cent of the refugees who fled due to continued attacks by armed groups are from Sokoto, Zamfara, and Katsina states.
Baloch noted that majority of the displaced people have already sought refuge status in Maradi, the second largest city in Niger, which is not too far from Katsina State, President Muhamadu Buhari’s home state.
He said as a result of insecurity at the border region, especially in Nigeria, additional 19,000 Niger nationals have become displaced inside their own country.
The official also said the humanitarian agency is worried about the influx of “mainly desperate women and children, following the deteriorating security and attacks inside Nigeria’s Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states, also the risk of armed incursions spilling over into Niger.”
He accused government of not showing enough concern over continuing non-precautionary measures at the borders to check the refugees “despite border closures due to COVID-19.
“An estimated 23,000 people sought safety and security in Niger last month (April), as a result of the ongoing violence in parts of north-western Nigeria.
“This takes the total number of refugees fleeing that part of Nigeria to take sanctuary in neighbouring Niger to more than 60,000 since the first influx, in April last year.
“Since April 2019, people have fled relentless attacks by armed groups in the Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina states of Nigeria. Most found refuge in Niger’s Maradi region.
“Fearing and fleeing the same insecurity in the border areas, an additional 19,000 Niger nationals have become displaced inside their own country.
“Many have also been caught up in the clashes reported being blamed on farmers and herders of different ethnic groups as well as vigilantism. Some 95 per cent of the refugees have come from Nigeria’s Sokoto state, rest from Kano, Zamfara and Katsina states. the UN chief said.
State governments in the North-West, including Katisna, Sokoto and Zamfara are reportedly negotiating with armed bandits to the extent of engaging them in prisoner swaps in exchange for tens of persons kidnapped by the bandits.
Also speaking on violence in the Lake Chad region, the UN chief said the violence in that region was not directly linked to armed groups operating in the Lake Chad and in the Sahel.
He added that life might not be rosy for the migrants as Maradi, Diffa, Tillaberi and Tahoua, all in Niger Republic are not safer either, a situation hesaid could further worsen humanitarian crises in the country.
PREMIUM TIMES had also reported that a London-based research group, Conflict Armament Research (CAR), in January revealed arms used in the farmers/herders conflict in North-West Nigeria came from the same source as those used by the terror group, Al Qaeda, in Mali and other Sahel countries.