UNHCR urges against forced returns to Nigeria amid rising violence in the north

News Stories, 29 October 2013

© UNHCR/C.Arnaud
Nigerian refugees in Niger. Some 10,000 Nigerians have also crossed into nearby countries, including 2,700 in Niger.

GENEVA, October 29 (UNHCR) Amid rising violence in north-east Nigeria, the UN refugee agency on Tuesday issued a new return advisory (in refworld) urging countries in the region against forced returns of people fleeing the affected area.

"We are also urging that borders be kept open for Nigerians fleeing the country and who may be in need of international protection," UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton told journalists in Geneva, adding that the advisory seeks to ensure that humanitarian and asylum principles are upheld in light of the worsening security situation in north-east Nigeria.

Conflict between the Nigerian army and insurgents in Nigeria's Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states has led to deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions in the region, which has been under a state of emergency since May. The violence has displaced an estimated 5,000 people within the region, but humanitarian access is difficult and UNHCR believes the number affected could be much higher.

Some 10,000 Nigerians have also crossed into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger in recent months. More than 80 per cent have sought refuge in Cameroon, according to local authorities, who say that people continue to arrive.

McNorton also said UNHCR was "alarmed" at reports of the attempted refoulement (forced return) of 111 people from northern Cameroon to Nigeria on October 5. During the incident, 15 people were reportedly killed and seven injured. The remaining 89 fled back to Cameroon and were detained. "UNHCR is working with the government of Cameroon to assess whether there are people in the group in need of international protection," McNorton said.

In light of the security situation in north-eastern Nigeria, people fleeing are likely to meet the criteria for refugee status as outlined in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the OAU Convention. "UNHCR's return advisory will remain in effect until the security and human rights situation in north-eastern Nigeria has improved sufficiently to permit a safe and dignified return," the spokesman said.

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Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

In May 2013, the Nigerian government, responding to a surge in violence in the north-east of the country, declared a state of emergency in the volatile states of Borno, Adawama and Yobe. Many people fled to neighbouring Niger's Diffa region and to the Far North Region of Cameroon. Fresh violence in January this year has forced thousands more to flee to both countries. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux visited the towns of Bosso and Diffa in Niger's Diffa region shortly before the latest influx. She met some of the Nigerian refugees who had fled earlier waves of violence across the border. They told her of the violence they had seen, the losses they had suffered and their attempts to lead as normal a life as possible in Diffa, including sending their children to attend school. They are grateful to the communities that have welcomed and helped them in Niger.

Thousands Start Afresh in Niger After Fleeing Nigeria

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

One year after the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in the northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, violence continues to displace people within Nigeria and to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, including some 22,000 Nigerian refugees. Civilians trapped at home face recurrent attacks by insurgents, with a series of kidnappings and killings culminating in mid-April this year in the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno.

UNHCR's Hélène Caux recently travelled to the region to meet with some of the 250,000 internally displaced, including students caught up in the violence. Those she spoke to told her about their fears, and the atrocities and suffering they had endured or witnessed. People spoke about their homes and fields being destroyed, grenade attacks on markets, the killing of friends and relatives, and arbitrary arrests. Uniting them is an overwhelming sense of terror. Caux found it a challenge to photograph people who live in constant fear of being attacked. "It was this delicate balance to try to achieve between featuring them, communicating their stories and protecting them," she said.

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

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