The jihadist group Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) launched an attack on Monday against the Nigerian town of Dikwa, located in the state of Borno (northeast) and which hosts a United Nations facility where there are several dozen humanitarian workers, according to local media.
Security sources quoted by the Nigerian newspaper ‘Daily Post’ have indicated that the attackers had managed to break into the facilities of the international organization, although for the moment there is no official confirmation of this or information on casualties.
Murtala Abdullahi, who works for the Nigerian portal HumAngle – directed by Ahmad Salkida, an expert on Boko Haram who in the past has had access to first-hand information on the group – has indicated that the humanitarian workers are trapped in the middle of the offensive.
Edward Kallon, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, has expressed “grave concern” about the attack in Dikwa, “where many aid facilities have been directly targeted.” “I am outraged to hear that the facilities of several humanitarian aid agencies and a hospital have been burned or damaged,” he added.
“I strongly condemn the attack and am deeply concerned for the safety of civilians in Diwka, including IDPs inside and outside the camps and the thousands of people who had returned to the community to rebuild their lives after years of displacement,” he has maintained.
In this regard, he highlighted that “this violent attack will affect the support being delivered to close to 100,000 people in desperate need of humanitarian aid and protection, particularly in the face of the risk of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Borno State.”
“Civilians and humanitarian workers, their facilities and assets must never be targeted,” Kallon said through his statement, in which he stressed that they “must be protected and respected at all times.”
“I call on all armed parties to immediately stop the violence and to respect humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians, property and humanitarian personnel,” he concluded.
Dikwa, located about 90 kilometers from Borno’s capital Maiduguri, has been the scene of several ISWA attacks so far this year. The town was seized in 2016 from Boko Haram, from which the Islamic State offshoot in the region later splintered.
The ISWA offensive comes about a week after the Army took control of the town of Marte, located on the outskirts of Dikwa, following fighting with the jihadists.
Although the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, came to consider Boko Haram defeated and the Army has intensified its actions in the Lake Chad area where it operates, the fact is that both the faction led by Shekau and ISWA have intensified their actions in recent months. They have also carried out attacks in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
On the other hand, at least 15 people were killed and dozens injured in an attack on Monday in the state of Sokoto (northwest), after assailants opened fire on a group of residents trying to prevent the kidnapping of a businessman, as reported by the British television network BBC.
WAVE OF DISPLACED PERSONS IN NIGER
During the day, Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), expressed alarm at the increase in violence in northwestern Nigeria, which has led to a wave of displacement to Niger.
“Fearing armed groups and inter-communal clashes, more than 7,660 refugees have fled Nigeria for Maradi this year and another 3,500 citizens of Niger have been displaced within the country,” he explained.
He noted that “most of the refugees are women and children displaced after the recent attacks in Sokoto state” and added that “the Maradi region is now hosting close to 100,000 displaced people, including 77,000 Nigerian refugees who fled the relentless attacks in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states”.
“UNHCR applauds Niger’s generosity as it continues to ensure access to asylum despite border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cheshirkov, who warned of a spike in violence in Maradi that has caused “more casualties and serious incidents in January and February than in the entire second half of 2020.”
“Refugees describe violent killings, kidnappings for ransom and looting of localities. Many have also been caught up in clashes between farmers and herders, as well as by ‘vigilantes’, as self-defense groups are being set up in most localities,” he explained.
Therefore, he stressed that “people fleeing urgently need water, food, shelter and health services”, since “most of them have fled empty-handed in the rush to save their lives”.
Cheshirkov assured that UNHCR is working with the Nigerian authorities “to relocate refugees away from the border and to safer locations where basic assistance and services are available.”
“Armed groups in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions have been fueling one of the fastest growing displacement and protection crises in the world. To date, more than 3.2 million people have been displaced by violence in the Lake Chad Basin,” he lamented.
In this sense, he warned that “humanitarian efforts to respond to the emergency are under dangerous stress” and recalled that UNHCR operations in Lake Chad require 128.6 million dollars (about 107 million euros), although they are only ten percent funded.
“UNHCR calls on the international community to increase support to the region and to help governments to address the causes of this forced displacement and to promote strategic and sustainable development,” he added.