N’DJAMENA, APRIL 24, 2020 (CISA)-The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for protection of civilians in a military crackdown on armed groups in border regions.
Aissatou Ndiaye, Deputy Director for UNHCR’s Bureau for West and Central Africa has noted that since 29 March, thousands of people have fled their homes and villages for fear of being attacked, as security forces from Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon launched the crackdown.
“The safety of the displaced population plus their host communities must be a priority for all sides involved in this conflict. Too many civilians in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin have already paid a high price and should not be made to suffer more,” Ndiaye said on April 23.
Nearly 50,000 people, including thousands of women, children and the elderly, have been displaced in the region this year – including 25,000 when the Chadian army, with support from other countries, launched operation ‘Wrath of Boma’ on the shores of Lake Chad at the end of March.
According to the United Nations, more than 4,000 were displaced earlier this month by clashes in Niger’s Tillaberi region, provoking hundreds to seek safety in parts of Mali.
Since January, unrest across the entire Sahel region, which runs across the breadth of the continent, has sparked another 6,000 Nigeriens to flee to Mali, joining at least 10,000 Malians displaced inside their own country.
“Attacks and counter-attacks are constantly pushing populations living in the border areas into deeper misery and risk annihilating any advances in building their resilience,” he added.
During the first three months of this year, UNHCR and its partners recorded 191 incidents in Niger that had left 549 victims within a 50 kilometer zone of the border area, which included assassinations, kidnappings and theft as well as sexual and gender-based violence.
UNHCR reminded governments to uphold their international obligations as well as the commitments they made in 2019 during high-level regional dialogues in Abuja and Bamako, where States reiterated pledges to protect civilians from becoming victims during counter-terrorism operations.
The Sahel and Lake Chad have been for many years in the throes of armed conflicts and violence that have left 3.8 million people internally displaced across both regions and triggered 270,000 to flee to neighbouring countries.
“The safety of the displaced population and their host communities must be a priority for all sides involved in this conflict,” Ndiaye said.
The UN refugee agency expressed readiness to support regional efforts to maintain the civilian and humanitarian nature of asylum and to facilitate access to the dire humanitarian situation while continuing its work with the authorities to identify secure relocation sites.