STORY: Protection crisis in Niger - UNHCR
DURATION (TRT): 03'34''
SOURCE: UNTV CH
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 29 AUGUST 2023, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
FORMAT: HYBRID PRESS BRIEFING
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) sounded the alarm on Tuesday about the “crisis of uncertainty” that is developing in Niger following last month's military takeover.
UNHCR Representative in Niger, Emmanuel Gignac, warned that the ongoing political situation could develop “humanitarian consequences,” with aid and protection services unable to reach scores of vulnerable displaced people.
Speaking in Geneva Mr. Gignac said that although attacks by non-state armed groups existed before the 26 July military takeover, especially near the Mali and Burkina Faso borders, since then, they have “led to further displacement.”
According to UNHCR, Niger is home to over 700,000 forcibly displaced people: 350,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, and 350,000 internally displaced people.
“In the past 30 days…we observed an additional 20,000 new internally displaced people," the UNHCR spokesperson said.
Additionally, population movements continue around the country's borders, albeit on a “modest scale”, with more than 2,500 people seeking asylum in Niger in the first two weeks of August, coming from Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
Mr. Gignac expressed concern over the effects of sanctions imposed on the country by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which do not include any exemptions for humanitarian aid.
He explained that the sanctions kicked in at a “fragile” time of the year – the so-called “période de soudure”, which marks the transition between agricultural seasons and before the rainy season fully sets in.
According to UNHCR, already high food and commodity prices surged further after sanctions were introduced and appear set to continue rising due to the closure of borders with ECOWAS countries.
Mr. Gignac stressed that the agency’s stocks of essential items for about 5,000 families are only expected to last for three to five months.
Calling for a lifting of sanctions for humanitarian aid, he pointed out that lack of access to food and “the scarcity of goods in general” will lead to a number of protection risks. These include “early marriages, sexual violence, trafficking and exploitation”.
In July, UNHCR reported 255 protection incidents including kidnapping, gender-based violence and domestic violence. The UN agency's teams witnessed a 50 per cent increase in such incidents between 26 and 31 July, compared to previous weeks.
The UNHCR representative underscored that Niger had been “a hub” for asylum-seekers and a migration route towards North Africa and Libya in particular, and that these people are “in need of international protection.”
Moreover, the security situation, fuel shortages and disruptions to the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) have seriously impacted aid workers’ mobility, keeping them from reaching those most in need, he said.
The agency’s $135.7 million appeal for Niger remains only 39 per cent funded.