Thousands flee Niger town

Boko Haram steps up cross-border raids and suicide bombings

Thousands of civilians fled their homes in the southeastern Niger town of Diffa this week, officials said yesterday, following waves of cross-border raids and suicide bombings by Nigerian militant group Boko Haram.

Attacks in Niger are deepening a humanitarian crisis in the remote border zone. The area, struggling to feed 150 000 people who have run to escape violence in northern Nigeria, has seen about 7 000 arrive this week in Zinder, Niger’s second biggest town about 450km west of Diffa.

The International Rescue Committee, which supplied the population estimates, has teams working on the ground there.

Country director Matias Meier said some families in Zinder, one of the poorest regions in Niger, were having to host 20 people, while other displaced people were sleeping in a stadium.

“Those who went on the trucks are the lucky ones. Bus tickets are sold out until the end of next week. Many are just walking or going by bicycle,” Meier said.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed thousands in northeastern Nigeria. Regional armies are mobilising a joint force of 8 700 men to defeat the group that is increasingly threatening neighbouring countries.

Niger’s military said its army, backed by Chadian forces deployed to the country, had killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters in several battles sparked by raids in the Diffa region this week.

Almost 180 000 civilians have fled to neighbouring countries. Most have gone to Niger or Cameroon, but Boko Haram’s latest offensive has ravaged the western shore of Lake Chad. Those caught in the vortex have no way of escape except by making the arduous boat journey across the lake itself.