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Nigeria: violence drives 23,000 into Niger even if PM appoints ex-UN diplomat chief of staff

The ongoing violence in northwest Nigeria has forced more than 23,000 refugees to flee to Niger since the beginning of April, raising more and more concerns about the weakening security situation, the United Nations refugee agency just declared.

Even if Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari a few hours ago appointed Ibrahim Gambari as his new chief of staff, however, his country is going through a very hard time.

A photo of the recent attacks in Nigeria. Image credit CNN

Gambari, the ex-under-secretary-general at the United Nations and now new chief of staff, will have to help the PM to deal with the out-of-control situation fed by the violent and deadly gun fires that emerged after several gunmen opened fire on the crowd.

The number of people escaping to neighbouring Niger has almost tripled from last year when the UN agency reported the first influx of 20,000 people following an insurgency and banditry in northern Nigeria which killed hundreds and displaced thousands.

The latest influx -mostly composed of women and children- came after the recent gunmen attacks in Nigeria’s Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara areas earlier in April.

The most dramatic attack destroyed 47 lives in Katsina State, forcing Nigerian security to fight back with air strikes already stretched tackling a decade-long insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast part of the country.

President Buhari with Ibrahim Gambari

“We are working closely with authorities in Niger to relocate at least 7,000 refugees back to safety... where water, food, shelter, access to health and other basic assistance can be provided,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told a media briefing.

“Consultations are also ongoing with the two governments to recognise on a prima facie basis the refugees fleeing Nigeria and arriving in the region,” he said.

Meanwhile, in March Nigeria closed its land borders to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected over 4,600 people in the country with 150 related deaths. It first shut parts of its borders last year to fight to smuggle, but people could still cross both ways.

The UN claimed the refugees from Nigeria are being allowed to seek protection in Niger despite border closures with people in need of food, shelter and basic services including healthcare.

Nigerians seek safety in Niger. Image credit Silas Adamou, MSF

Baloch announced that around 19,000 Niger citizens have been displaced in their own country as they fled, fearing insecurity in border areas. The refugees were found in Niger’s southern Maradi region, the UN agency explained.

Many have also been caught up in clashes blamed on farmers and herders over dwindling land in Nigeria which have killed even more people than the Boko Haram’s attacks.

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