This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Charlie Yaxley – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
A new upsurge of violence in northeastern Nigeria has forced thousands of people – most of them women and children - to seek safety in Chad’s Lake Chad region.
An estimated 6,000 refugees have fled Nigeria's restive Borno State since 26 December, when clashes erupted between Nigerian government forces and non-state armed groups in Baga town, near the Chadian border.
Many of the refugees paddled across the lake to arrive in the Chadian village of Ngouboua, located on the shores of Lake Chad, 20 kilometres from the Nigerian border. It takes three hours for the crossing.
According to testimonies gathered by our teams, refugees are fleeing in fear of their lives after threats of retaliation and intimidation following militant attacks.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Chadian authorities are carrying out registration and pre-screening of new arrivals to evaluate the needs for assistance. An overwhelming majority of the new arrivals are women and children, with some 55 per cent of them being minors according to our initial registration data.
Efforts are also underway by UNHCR to move arriving refugees away from the border areas, due to security concerns and after a government request. So far, we have relocated some 4,200 refugees to the already existing Dar-es-Salam camp 45 kilometres away. The camps already hosts some 11,300 Nigerian refugees who have arrived since 2014.
We are racing to provide timely shelter and other assistance to those arriving, including the most vulnerable. Currently, new arrivals are hosted in collective shelters. UNHCR is distributing relief items including blankets, mats and mosquito nets and refugees are getting hot meals.
Inside Nigeria, the same clashes have also forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, with more than 30,000 people arriving in Maiduguri, stretching even further beyond their limits the capacities of existing camps already hosting internally displaced people. People are in need of humanitarian assistance, notably shelter, food, water and sanitation. UNHCR is also following up on the fate of some 9,000 Nigerian refugees who were reported as forcibly returned from Cameroon last week. Refugees had fled across the border into Cameroon when militants attacked and ransacked the small border town of Rann in Nigeria’s Borno State on 14 January 2019.
UNHCR is reiterating its call on the countries in the region to keep borders open for refugees fleeing insecurity in Nigeria.