GENEVA — The U.N. refugee agency says thousands of Nigerian refugees are fleeing to Chad to escape a surge of violence in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state.
Fierce clashes between government forces and armed militants from the radical Islamic group Boko Haram erupted in late December in Borno state’s Baga town, near the Chadian border. The U.N. refugee agency reports an estimated 6,000 Nigerian refugees have fled for their lives over the past month, many paddling across Lake Chad to reach safety.
The UNHCR says most of the new arrivals are women and children. Many describe their desperation to escape the violence after receiving threats of retaliation and intimidation following militant attacks.
UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley says Chadian authorities have asked his agency to move the refugees away from the border area because of security concerns. He tells VOA UNHCR staff so far has moved some 4,200 refugees to an existing camp some 45 kilometers away.
“At the moment, we do not have any indications that the fighting has spilled out across the border. But as I mentioned, the fighting in Borno state remains extremely volatile and as a precautionary measure it was decided to bring them further inland in order to provide them with their needs and assure their safety,” he said.
Yaxley says the UNHCR is racing against time to provide shelter and other aid to those arriving. He says new arrivals are staying in shelters where they are receiving relief items, including blankets, mats and mosquito nets, as well as hot meals.
Last week, the government of Cameroon forcibly deported some 9,000 Nigerian refugees who had fled fighting in Borno state. Yaxley says the UNHCR is following up on their fate. He acknowledges, however, it is difficult to get good information about their whereabouts and condition since insecurity restricts access to the area.
Boko Haram seeks to destroy Nigeria’s secular state and establish an Islamic State under Shariah.
By Lisa Schlein I VOA