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.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

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

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

Mediterranean Drownings: The High Commissioner's CommentsPlay video

Mediterranean Drownings: The High Commissioner's Comments

The High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres expressed shock at news from the Mediterranean that hundreds of people were missing after their boat sank and called anew for urgent action to prevent such tragedies in the future. The latest incident involves the capsizing of a double-deck boat on Monday in waters about 120 kilometers south of Italy's Lampedusa Island.
Italy: New Arrivals in LampedusaPlay video

Italy: New Arrivals in Lampedusa

The influx of refugees and migrants into Italy continues with new boats arriving on daily basis. In the last two weeks, over 13,000 people have been rescued at sea. Early on Friday morning, a dinghy carrying 60-70 people from sub-Saharan Africa was rescued by an Italian boat and taken to the island of Lampedusa.
Nigeria Refugee Crisis - A Journey of SurvivalPlay video

Nigeria Refugee Crisis - A Journey of Survival

Today, United Nations Agencies and non-governmental organizations are launching the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) for Nigerian refugees. This appeal is urgently seeking USD 174.4 million to protect and assist some 192,000 people who have fled brutal attacks by insurgents in north-eastern Nigeria. The plan also foresees to respond to any additional population movements to the neighbouring countries. The appeal is seeking funds to provide life-saving assistance to at least 74,000 Nigerians who have found refuge in northern Cameroon, to 18,000 in south-west Chad and to some 100,000 people - a mix of Nigerian refugees and returning Niger nationals - in Niger.