Refugees from Mali, displaced Niger nationals and local host communities – numbering to more than a thousand – have fled from western Niger following a brutal attack by unidentified armed group on Sunday afternoon that left three people killed and many others wounded.
Over 50 armed men on motorbikes have reportedly attacked a refugee camp which hosts some 20,000 refugees and 15,000 displaced Niger nationals in Intikane, Tahoua region and killed two Malian refugee leaders and a local host community leader.
The assailants also burned down food supplies and other aid items, destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water station and pipes, cutting communication and the water supply of the displaced population and host communities.
About 1,100 people who have fled are currently outside the town of Telemces, some 27 kilometres away from the attack site, urgently needing water, food and other assistance. Government authorities and humanitarian partners have come to their aid.
Sunday’s brutal assassinations shocked refugees, local communities and humanitarian workers who fear that more attacks to come as worsening insecurity in the region is driving people to look for safety to further inland in Niger.
UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic, speaking at a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, condemned the killings and called on all sides to respect civilian lives, and for authorities to bring those responsible to justice and ensure that such heinous crimes will not repeated in the future.
Mr. Mahecic said the UNHCR is working with partners and local authorities to provide immediate assistance, especially trucking in water with other relief supplies, as people could die of thirst in the desert heat. Water is also needed to help fight COVID19.
The past few months have seen a sharp increase in attacks in the Liptako Gourma region, where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger share borders, forcing people living in the area to flee.
Mr. Mahecic stressed that despite violent attacks and insecurity severely limiting humanitarian access to those in need of protection and assistance, UNHCR is stepping up its response in Niger, focusing especially on providing shelter, education and programmes to prevent and address sexual and gender-based violence.
Niger government has also expressed its commitment to protecting people fleeing violence, said the UNHCR spokesperson.
UNHCR renewed its urgent call on warring parties in the Sahel to protect civilians, people forced to flee and communities hosting them, as civilians are bearing the brunt of increasing attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
In the past couple of months, refugee camps in Burkina Faso have also been the target of attacks and incursion, forcing many to leave. (Source: UNHCR)