The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR said brutal violence in northern Nigeria has forced thousands of people to flee into neighboring Niger.
More than 40,000 people have now been forced to cross from northwest Nigeria into Niger as a result of an upsurge in violent attacks on civilians over the last ten months, said the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in a statement. It said people are seeking safety from indiscriminate attacks on men, women and children unleashed by organized armed groups.
There have been frequent reports of kidnappings, torture, extortion, murder, sexual violence and destruction of houses and property, UNHCR said.
Thousands flee from armed groups
UNHCR said escalating violence in the Nigerian states of Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina, by groups other than Boko Haram, has led to a new humanitarian emergency in Niger's border regions.
Nigerian refugees continue to arrive in more than 50 villages in the departments of Guidan Roumji, Guidan Sori and Tibiri. On September 11 alone, more than 2,500 people fled when civilians were targeted by armed groups on the Nigerian side.
As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Sokoto State, UNHCR said it is expecting more refugees to arrive in Niger. It said fleeing villagers report the attackers to be well-equipped and well-organized, and that some refugees have been chased over the border into Niger. Some village chiefs in Niger are also reported to have been targeted and killed by the armed groups, it said.
Reports of extreme violence
UNHCR said the refugees, many of them women and children, are arriving with gruesome details of extreme violence. A 14-year-old refugee told UNHCR staff that attackers killed more than 50 people in her village, including her family members. Her father and two young sisters, aged three and four, were shot dead, while her five-year-old brother was killed with a machete. Attackers stole all her family's belongings.
The attackers take some people hostage and let others go free to warn the rest of the community of the consequences if they do not pay ransoms and if they do not flee their homes. UNHCR said it is rushing assistance to the area and registering the new arrivals with six mobile units in the border regions. It has also opened a new field office and deployed emergency staff and resources to respond to humanitarian needs. According to Nigerian police, 300 were rescued after being held at a reportedly Islamic school where many had allegedly been tortured and sexually abused.