Boko Haram attacks in Niger force 50,000 people to flee

Published On : Wednesday, June 08 2016

About 50,000 people have fled a town in Niger’s troubled south-east after deadly attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, the UN said on Tuesday.

The attacks began on Friday against a military post in Bosso, in the Diffa region, killing 26 soldiers including two from neighbouring Nigeria.

“An estimated 50,000 people or so fled,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations high commission for refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

Fifty-five insurgents from the Nigeria-based Islamist group were killed and many were injured, according to authorities.

Edwards said most of the people fleeing the violence walked westwards to Toumour, about 18 miles (30km) west of Bosso. “Many people are reportedly traumatised and worried about their safety. People are sleeping in the open and urgently need shelter and other assistance.”

A journalist working with Radio Anfani told AFP he was sheltering in Toumour with no food, along with many others.

“The Boko Haram gunmen stayed in Bosso from 6.30pm [5.30pm GMT] on Friday to 3.00am on Saturday, burning the military barracks, police facilities and local administration office before looting shops and carting away food supplies,” he said.

“Everybody started leaving the town and surrounding villages at dawn after the gunmen had left.” He said the gunmen used heavy artillery, which allowed them to overrun the town’s garrison. “They came in large numbers shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is greatest],” he added.

The journalist, who declined to be named, said he subsequently learned that the fighters returned later on Sunday and “engaged troops redeployed to the town in fierce battle”.

“The troops retreated, leaving Boko Haram militants in control of the town,” he said, although the claims could not immediately be verified.

However Niger’s defence minister, Assoumana Malam Issa, said the military has regained control of the town.

Edwards said some of the displaced people had moved on from Toumour and were heading to the town of Diffa, around 90 miles west of Bosso, and northwards towards a camp for internally displaced people that is already nearing its capacity of 10,000.

“The welfare of these people and others forced to flee the violence in Bosso is of great concern,” he said.

The latest attack was among the deadliest by Boko Haram in Niger since it began launching raids in the country in February 2015 from its stronghold in neighbouring Nigeria. At least 240,000 people have been displaced in the Diffa region since then.

UNHCR, which has not had a presence in Bosso since the Boko Haram raids began nearly a year and a half ago, said it was working with the authorities and local partners to coordinate the response to the mass exodus. “A team will be en route to the Diffa region this week,” Edwards said.

Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency has devastated infrastructure in Nigeria’s impoverished north-east and forced around 2.1 million people in the country to flee their homes, according to UNHCR.

The unrest has left at least 20,000 people dead in Nigeria and made more than 2.6 million homeless.