Over 50 armed men on motorbikes attacked a refugee camp in western Niger 31 May, killing two Malian refugee leaders and a local host community leader. The site hosts some 20,000 refugees and an additional 15,000 displaced Niger nationals. The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) reports that the gunmen then torched food supplies and aid items, destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water station and pipe network.
UNHCR is working with partners and local authorities to provide immediate assistance, especially trucking in water and other relief supplies, as the camp is located in the desert. Water is also needed to help fight COVID19. Niger already has had 64 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, and while the virus has yet to reach the area of the attack, there are fears it may be only a matter of time.
The past few months have seen a sharp increase in attacks in the Liptako Gourma region, where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger share borders. The assassinations may be the beginning of more attacks and the insecurity in the region is prompting more migration to further sites inland. The agency is seeking additional water and food assistance urgently for an town about 27 km away where over 1,000 people have re-settled due to the violence. National authorities are on the ground there and can receive supplies.
“The heinous and senseless act against vulnerable refugees and their hosts is heartbreaking and must be condemned in the strongest terms,” said Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR representative in Niger.
UNHCR renews 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.
Although no one group has claimed responsibility for the attack, Islamic extremists have increasingly established themselves in remote areas of Niger following the 2013 French-led military operation to oust them from power in neighboring Mali. Last year Niger’s army suffered unprecedented fatal attacks on its forces, underscoring the tremendous challenges it faces even after receiving military training from the United States and former colonial ruler France.