UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is becoming increasingly troubled by ongoing violence in Niger’s border areas with Mali and Burkina Faso, which has forced 52,000 Nigeriens to flee their homes this year alone.
Cross-border incursions and attacks by militant groups in Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua border regions have forced many to flee for safety to other nearby towns and villages.
Those displaced report fleeing horrific violence. Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, killing and abducting civilians, including community leaders, burning schools and looting homes, businesses and livestock.
While a government declared state of emergency continues to take effect in the Tahoua and Tillaberi border regions and large-scale military operations by G5 Sahel forces are ongoing, the violence and insecurity is also hampering humanitarian relief efforts.
Since the beginning of October, the government in coordination with the humanitarian community has attempted to secure certain zones to ensure distributions of aid, but ongoing security threats have prevented humanitarians from reaching all those in need of help.
The situation is both alarming and extremely volatile. In addition to causing new displacement, the violence is also affecting 53,000 Malian refugees who are living in the Tillaberi and Tahoua regions. Some have told UNHCR staff that they are considering fleeing northwards, to other countries.
UNHCR is leading a coordinated inter-agency protection response to help those fleeing, including through protection monitoring which enables humanitarian actors to provide rapid assistance to those identified as particularly vulnerable and in need.
UNHCR is also working with local NGO partners and a wide network of community based protection focal points throughout the country who provide updated information on the needs of displaced Nigeriens. Since January, more than 375 incidents reported through this mechanism have been followed-up by UNHCR and partners with tangible protection assistance.
“Despite having to grapple with violence and insecurity along its borders, Niger remains a generous refugee host country and it is now the first African country to incorporate the Kampala Convention, the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, into domestic law having adopted a national law earlier this month,” said UNHCR’s Representative in Niger, Alessandra Morelli.
There are currently more than 156,000 internally displaced people in Niger, who have been forced to flee mainly from the western border regions near Mali and Burkina Faso (33 per cent) and in Diffa, in the south-east, near Nigeria (67 per cent). In addition, there are also more than 175,000 refugees mainly from Nigeria (67 per cent) and Mali (32 per cent) in the country.
Despite increasing displacement and mounting humanitarian needs, support for UNHCR’s humanitarian response in Niger has been limited.
UNHCR has received a little more than half of its appeal to respond to the needs of internally displaced Nigeriens, as well as Malian and Nigerian refugees hosted in Niger. Only 58 per cent (USD 54 million) of UNHCR’s humanitarian response in Niger has been received this year.
In addition to appealing for more support, UNHCR is also calling upon the international community to address the root causes of displacement in Niger and the region, and to work towards peace. UNHCR also reiterates that civilian protection should be central to all international military interventions.