Overview of Refugee Situation in Nigeria

Background to present Nigerian Situation

 “After lurching from one military coup to another, Nigeria now has an elected leadership. But the government faces the growing challenge of preventing Africa’s most populous country [166.6 million (UN, 2012)] from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.

Nigeria…a former British colony, is Africa’s leading-… and one of the world’s largest oil producers …; yet more than half of its people live in poverty. The trade in stolen oil has fuelled violence and corruption in the Niger delta – the home of the industry. Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth.

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the UN. The poverty in the north is in stark contrast to the more developed southern states. While in the oil-rich south-east, the residents of Delta and Akwa Ibom complain that all the wealth they generate flows up the pipeline to Abuja and Lagos.

Political liberalisation ushered in by the return to civilian rule in 1999 has allowed militants from religious and ethnic groups to pursue their demands through violence.

Since 2009, “Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram…, (a phrase in the local Hausa language meaning, “Western education is forbidden”) – which has caused havoc through a wave of bombings, assassinations and now abductions – is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. Not only does Boko Haram have a fighting force of thousands of men, but also cells that specialise in bombings.” Thousands of people have died over the past few years in communal attacks led by (the al-Qaeda ally) Boko Haram.

The imposition of Islamic law in several northern states has embedded divisions and caused thousands of Christians to flee. (Boko Haram have been known to also target moderate Muslim clerics, the military, anyone working for the government and Western-style schools. They themselves started their own school, attended by the children of poor Muslims, where they recruited children for Jihad, before the government shut it down – italics mine.) One of the great fears people have today stems from not knowing exactly where Boko Haram has a presence in the country and whom you can trust.

BBC World News, 20 May 2014


“Nigerians, in particular Christians, have been the target of continuous attacks by the Islamic militant group for over four years. Boko Haram has bombed and gunned down churches, congregations, schools and government buildings, openly declaring its mission to drive out Christians and all those opposed to it from the country and establish Islamic rule.”  By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter, March 13, 2014


The Present Nigerian Refugee Situation

“…the United Nations refugee agency expressed alarm Friday at the swelling tide of people fleeing their homes in northeast Nigeria to escape attacks by Boko Haram insurgents that it said were unprecedented in their brutality and frequency. Up to a thousand people are crossing the border into southern Niger every week from fear of attacks by the Islamist insurgent group and counterattacks by the Nigerian armed forces, and smaller numbers have arrived in Cameroon and Chad, Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency, told reporters.  … Nigerian authorities have reported that a quarter of a million people are now displaced within the country and more than 60,000 people have fled across borders, Mr. Edwards added. After crossing the border, those fleeing violence were still at risk because of a lack of security and the remoteness of the region, Mr. Edwards said, noting the refugee agency had moved people arriving in northern Cameroon from Borno to a location 25 miles from the border for their safety.”

By Nick Cumming Bruce, May 9, 2014, The New York Times.


“In all 250,000 people are now internally displaced, according to the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Some 61,000 have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Most are Niger nationals who were living in Nigeria, but 22,000 are Nigerians who have been made refugees by the crisis.

The situation in southern Niger is particularly difficult, with poor security and remoteness compounding the difficulties to provide humanitarian help. In the Diffa region, just across the border from Nigeria, between 700 and 1,000 people are arriving each week. These people are fleeing attacks by insurgents or out of fear of retaliatory action by the armed forces. UNHCR teams in the area say 1,500 people have recently arrived in a single village to the south of Diffa town following an attack on the other side of the border by six insurgents on 20 April. Some lost everything in the attack: 35 houses and 25 shops were burned, food stocks were set on fire, and two men were wounded. At present the refugees are staying in abandoned houses that will be at risk of flooding when the rainy season starts in June-July. We are working with our partners to relocate the refugees to a drier environment.

Including the Diffa region and villages and other sites on Lake Chad, some 100 kilometres to the east, UNHCR and its partner the International Rescue Committee have registered 15,700 people over the past six weeks. These are people who have fled the attacks of recent months, mainly in Borno state. At present we are monitoring the situation for possible new displacement in light of ongoing military operations against suspected insurgents just across the border.

A second area of potential new displacement is across the border from Borno state in Cameroon’s Far North Region… Media reports say more than 100 people were killed during a 5 May market day in Gamboru Ngala town. Some 6,800 Nigerian refugees have arrived in the Far North Region since May of last year. 2,500 of these have been relocated to Minawao camp, 150 kilometres away from the volatile border area.

Neighbouring Chad has seen 550 persons arriving from Nigeria over the past year.”

Source: UNHCR – 9 May 2014

Compiled by Pia Horan 22 May 2014

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