WASHINGTON, DC —
Thousands of people have fled northeastern Nigeria in recent weeks amid reports of atrocities against civilians. The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is increasingly alarmed at the rising level of violence. Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the northeast a year ago due to attacks by the militant group Boko Haram.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said the latest attacks began in mid-February.
“Over the past four weeks, we’ve seen an additional 2,000 people fleeing this region into the southeast of neighboring Niger. The accounts from these people speak of real atrocities in the region around Lake Chad, which lies on the borders between Niger and Nigeria and Chad. One woman described to us bodies being strewn through houses, floating in the water.”
Many people said they were too afraid to stay behind and bury the dead or look for missing relatives.
Edwards said, “We’ve had some other accounts of shooting in villages there with women and children being kidnapped and taken away. So, it’s really a spreading of this horrible conflict we’re seeing outside of the towns and into some of the rural areas of northeast Nigeria.”
Besides the Lake Chad area, some of the new arrivals are from the Borno state capital Maiduguri.
“It’s hard for us to get full visibility of the situation inside northeast Nigeria, simply because we don’t have the access. And you have to remember that in addition to people fleeing Nigeria, you have got close to half a million people internally displaced inside the country. And that’s according to the government’s figures. So, these are really very high numbers and reflect what seems to be a very alarming situation,” he said.
Since Nigeria declared a state of emergency in Adawama, Yobe and Borno states, nearly 60,000 people have fled to Niger, Cameroon and Chad. Most are in Niger. About 17,000 of them are registered as Nigerian refugees. The rest are nationals from neighboring countries, who’ve been living in Nigeria for many years.
“We’re working together with partners, including the International Rescue Committee, the governments of the neighboring countries, to try and ensure that countries keep their borders open. And then we’re trying to do what we can to help people on arrival,” he said.
Edwards said many of those fleeing northeastern Nigeria are traumatized and left with very few possessions.