GENEVA – A surge in brutal attacks by armed groups in northwest Nigeria is sending thousands of refugees fleeing to Niger, the United Nations refugee agency says.
More than 40,000 Nigerians have fled to Niger over the last 10 months, creating a new humanitarian emergency along the two countries’ border, the UNHCR reports. It added that on Sept. 11 alone, more than 2,500 civilians targeted by armed groups in Nigeria fled for their lives.
The agency says it has received frequent reports of kidnappings, torture, extortion, murder, sexual violence, and destruction of houses and property.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch tells VOA the armed groups responsible for the violence are not linked to the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
“[Refugees] tell us, these groups are really well organized and well-armed, and they kind of operate at will,” Baloch said. “They go from house to house, villages to villages, killing people, destroying property and then getting away with these horrible acts.”
While the identity of the armed groups is unknown, Baloch says they include bandits and other criminal elements. He says some attackers have taken people hostage, holding them for ransom.
Media reports suggest an ethnic conflict between Fulani traditional herders and Hausa farmers plays a role in the violence.
The conflict has caused the deaths of more than 4,000 people since 2011, and Nigerian security experts report the Fulani-Hausa conflict is expected to claim more lives this year than Boko Haram aggression.
Aid is being rushed to the Niger border and emergency staff is responding to the humanitarian needs, Baloch says, adding that the UNHCR is working with local authorities to relocate refugees from the border to safer places inland.