Massive displacement in Maradi: a new emergency on Niger's borders
Since May 2019, more than 40,000 Nigerians from the states of Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina have decided to leave their homes despite the insecurity and constraints of the rainy season, for seeking refuge in the region of Maradi, south-east Niger. These people say they fled the upsurge of violence, kidnappings and killings perpetrated against their communities by armed groups whose exact motives and structures remain unclear.
Movements started with a first wave of 15,000 refugees arrived in Niger in mid-May 2019, followed in July by a second large flux. Smaller community movements are now continuously recorded along the border. According to a trend analysis proposed by the Nigerian authorities and UNHCR, a total of 50,000 refugees could seek refuge in the region of Maradi by the end of 2019 as a consequence of the continued attacks against civilians in Nigeria. Refugees are currently being hosted by Nigerien families living along the border, in the districts of Guidan-Roumdji, Guidan Sori, Gabi, Safo, Madarounfa and Tibiri. Their arrival has significantly increased the demographic density of these districts, which originally counted for about 45,000 people. Hospitality has been offered by the hosting communities despite the precariousness of their conditions and their limited reception capacities, and thus increasing their level of vulnerability in several sectors, such as food security, water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) and health.
A series of multisectoral assessments (MSAs) conducted by the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) in 40 villages has found that 64% of host families give shelter to an average of 23 refugees per household. It should be noted that only 37% of these families live in functional shelters, and that the recent floods have affected the living conditions and resources of more than 25,000 people in this region. Such a situation is raising concerns on the rapid depletion of drinking water and food supplies, on the rapid spread of epidemic diseases such as measles, polio and choler, for which cases are periodically reported in the region, and which have as a consequence the deterioration of the nutritional status and an increase of child mortality. UNHCR has already noted a high prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under 5 and pregnant women: this rate is around 35% among refugee children and 16% in host communities. At the same time, the results of a rapid assessment of the food and nutrition situation conducted during the past August by the Dispositif National de Prévention et de Gestion des Catastrophes et des Crises Alimentaires (DNPGCA) in collaboration with humanitarian partners, show that the impact of displaced populations on resources has dramatically accelerated the depletion of food reserves of hosting households during the lean season, and in a moment when the punctuality of markets supply has been seriously challenged by the growing insecurity.
Despite the patrols of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) of Niger and Nigeria, no protection monitoring mechanisms have been set up to assist the psychosocial distress in which the refugee and host populations live as a result of the violence, abuses and exploitations. And yet, several protection risks are linked to the settlement of the refugees near the border. Recently, between September 17 and 19, a group of about 100 armed individuals traveling on motorcycles reportedly carried out several attacks against civilians on both sides of the border.
A new crisis for the national humanitarian agenda
Due to the difficult access to the areas fled by these communities and to the lack of a well-structured cross-border coordination, neither the 2019's Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Niger nor the Regional Response Plan for Refugees (UNHCR's 2019 RRRP) had forecasted such an influx into the region of Maradi.
An extraordinary session of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) held in Niamey on August 23rd, called for the immediate activation of the RRM in the region, the establishment of an appropriate coordination mechanism, and the mobilization of the CERF Rapid Response window to immediately respond the most urgent needs and to relieve the pressure on the hosting communities by initiating a system of communicating vessels with new reception areas. A working committee was set up by the Nigerian authorities to define the modalities for ensuring the voluntary relocation of more than 41,000 refugees in the Maradi region to newly identified hosting communities. Meanwhile the pre-existence of different organizations and technical services in the region has allowed the activation of basic assistance activities, such as the distribution of 300 shelter kits and non-food items by different organizations and a distribution of 900 tons food mobilized by the government.
At the same time, UNCHR issued in August a dedicated emergency response plan which estimates that 16.8 million USD will be needed to assist 65,000 people (50,000 refugees from Nigeria and 15,000 members of the host population) in the sectors of water, hygiene, sanitation, protection, food, health for the next six months.