The United Nations refugee agency on Monday said it "strongly condemns" the targeted killing of two Malian refugee leaders and a local host community leader in an attack by unidentified armed elements in Western Niger.
“The heinous and senseless act against vulnerable refugees and their hosts is heartbreaking and must be condemned in the strongest terms,” said Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR Representative in Niger.
“By targeting refugees and cutting lifeline supplies, these armed groups are forcing vulnerable people to flee again, to leave from a place where they had found hope and where a careful balance had been built to allow solidarity with the local communities,” she added.
Late on Sunday, over 50 armed men on motorbikes swarmed into Intikane, which is located 72 kilometres from the Malian border and hosts some 20,000 refugees and an additional 15,000 displaced Niger nationals. In addition to murdering the three men, the assailants torched stocks of relief items, UNHCR said.
The assailants also destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water station and pipes, cutting communication and the water supply to the displaced population and their host communities.
Hundreds of people are on the run following the senseless murders and are heading to Telemces, a small village 27 kilometres from the site, UNHCR said, citing reports.
UNHCR is working to support the survivors and is providing urgently needed assistance – for example organizing water delivery to make sure that refugees, internally displaced persons and host communities have drinking water and water to wash their hands in - crucial to preventing the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The past few months have seen a sharp increase in attacks in the Liptako Gourma region, where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger share borders, forcing people living in the area to flee.
Despite violent attacks and insecurity severely limiting humanitarian access to those in need of protection and assistance, UNHCR said it is stepping up its actions in Niger, focusing especially on providing shelter, education and programmes to prevent and address sexual and gender-based violence.
Niger also continues to demonstrate its commitment to protecting people fleeing violence, the UN agency said.
"UNHCR renews its urgent call on warring parties in the Sahel to protect civilians, people forced to flee and communities hosting them, as civilians are bearing the brunt of increasing attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger," the agency underlined in its statement.
Refugee camps in Burkina Faso have been targeted by attacks and incursions in the past couple of months, forcing many to flee, UNHCR said.