Panafrican News Agency

UNHCR "saddened" by the deaths of refugees during a rush in Niger during aid distribution

Niamey, Niger (PANA) - The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was "deeply saddened by the deaths of at least 20 people, including women and infants, in Niger's Diffa region on Sunday during a rush to receive food and cash.

"We are shocked and saddened by these deaths," said Alessandra Morelli, Representative of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in Niger.

"We appreciate all the efforts made by individuals to help refugees. However, we urge that these efforts be coordinated with local authorities in Niger, as well as humanitarian organizations".

In a press release issued on Tuesday, UNHCR said it had not been involved in the distribution but was providing protection and assistance to refugees and IDPs in south-eastern Niger.

"UNHCR is providing emergency assistance to survivors in the form of medical care and psycho-social support and stands ready to assist local authorities in their efforts to respond to the tragedy.

The Diffa region, bordering Nigeria's Borno state, is now home to 263,000 people who have been uprooted by violence in the Lake Chad Basin - almost half of them, some 120,000, are refugees.

The overwhelming majority of the refugees are women and children from Nigeria, as well as a few thousand people who have recently arrived from Chad.

"In Niger and the Lake Chad Basin, UNHCR is leading the international response to protect people forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. UNHCR is continually advocating for a stronger link between humanitarian and development agencies working in areas hosting uprooted people," he said.

Some 20 people were killed and 12 others wounded on Monday in Diffa, in Niger's far-eastern border region with Nigeria, in a rush during a free food distribution at the town's Youth and Culture Centre.

The majority of the victims, among the ranks of Nigerian refugees and internally displaced people, are women and children.

This tragedy was provoked by an outpouring of generosity. Indeed, the distribution of food, money and material goods was initiated by the governor of the Nigerian state of Borno, on a working visit to Diffa.

The governor, BabaGana Oumara Zulum, accompanied by a large delegation came to discuss with his counterpart in Diffa, Issa Lemine, on the management of the security situation and to see first-hand the conditions in which his compatriots who have taken refuge in Niger to escape the Boko Haram attacks that are raging in Nigeria and Niger, in the region of Diffa, are living.

-0- PANA SA/IS/MTA/VAO 18Feb2020