Niger evacuates thousands from Lake Chad after Boko Haram attacks

Five thousand people have fled islands in Lake Chad in southeastern Niger over fears of new Boko Haram attacks after a bloody April assault, several sources told AFP on Monday.



An aerial view shows the village of Ngouboua on Lake Chad.

“More than 5,000 people have already reached N’Guigmi,” a town in southeastern Niger located near the lake and the Chadian border, a UN official told AFP.

Another 11,500 people are expected to arrive in the town, the official added. A local journalist told AFP that he estimated that “some 3,000 displaced people” had so far arrived.

Niger authorities last week urged Lake Chad residents to evacuate their islands by Monday, citing security fears.

The call came a week after an assault by Boko Haram that left at least 74 dead. It was the country’s heaviest loss since it joined a regional offensive against the militants.

Moussa Tchangari, who heads a local NGO, said thousands of men, women, children and elderly people “walked for more than 50 kilometres (30 miles)” until they reached N’Guigmi.

“When they arrived, they were exhausted, hungry and thirsty,” said Tchangari, who heads the group Alternative Citizens’ Space.

A humanitarian official described the dramatic scenes as a “Dantesque procession”.

However, “no preparations were in place to welcome… or support them”, Tchangari told reporters, though local authorities denied the claim.

“Everything is going very well, people are arriving on solid ground,” the governor of Diffa, the provincial capital of southeastern Niger, told AFP.

The UN source, who was not in the area, said “the government has apparently started to distribute aid”.

Niger has several islands in Lake Chad, a vast body of water between it, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, which is the regular site of deadly Boko Haram raids.