The United Nations voiced grave concern on Tuesday for the safety of thousands of refugees and internally displaced in the wake of a deadly attack on Toumour, a town in southeastern Niger’s Diffa region, near the border with Nigeria.
At least 28 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in the four-hour attack that began late in the evening of 12 December (local time), now claimed by the Boko Haram terrorist group. The town shelters over 30,000 refugees and displaced, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Municipal and regional elections in the Diffa region were also disrupted due to the violence.
Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack and reiterated the UN’s commitment to support national efforts to consolidate democratic governance, promote social cohesion and boost sustainable development, his Spokesperson said in a statement.
UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, said on Tuesday, that attackers destroyed nearly two-thirds of the town’s homes, burned the Toumour market to the ground, and killed more than a thousand cattle, according to local reports.
“Following the attack, most of the population fled to the bush, with some people returning only at daytime,” he added.
Mr. Baloch said UNHCR teams reported on Monday that many had left the town and were heading towards Diffa, some 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) away, which is already hosting about 46,000 refugees, displaced and returnees.
“Together with humanitarian partners and local authorities, we are organizing emergency shelter, food, water, and health support to the affected communities. However, recent heavy floods have made it difficult for aid workers to reach Toumour.”
The Lake Chad basin has been hit hard by increasing extremist violence over the past few months that has forced hundreds of thousands into the Diffa region. UNHCR and its partners are providing protection and humanitarian aid to more than 265,000 people there, said Mr. Baloch.
“The COVID-19 pandemic further complicates the response as most of the displaced are sheltering in crowded urban areas where social distancing is impossible”, he added.
Funds urgently needed
The UNHCR spokesperson called for increased financial support to ensure a comprehensive response to humanitarian emergencies in the Lake Chad Basin, where millions have been affected by violence.
As of early December, only 52 per cent of the $126.3 million required for the region had been funded.