A vicious attack on a refugee camp in Niger left 22 dead on October 6. In broad daylight, 30 to 40 heavily armed assailants descended upon Tazalite, a refugee hosting area, located 35 km west of the closest township, Tassara, and 525 km from the capital, Niamey.
According to RFI, assailants arrived at the camp in two pick-up trucks and carried out the attack during a lunch break. Security was least prepared at that moment, indicating a carefully planned assault where members of Niger’s army were gunned down by machine gun fire and then killed with a bullet to the head. The lives of 14 members of the National Guard, five gendarmes, and three soldiers were lost in an instant.
UNHCR reports that assailants remained in the area for up to two hours, looting food supplies, robbing the health centre of medicinal stocks and acquiring weapons and equipment of the deceased. The site’s only ambulance was set on fire and the group fled with a military vehicle before support from Niamey was able to arrive. No refugees lost their life in the attack.
Military reports say that Malian Tuareg accents were heard during the assault, however, nothing further about the assailants has been confirmed. The government of Niger launched an investigation into the attack and expressed condolences to the victims’ families, declaring two days of national mourning. As of four days after the attack, no group has claimed responsibility.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged the Nigerien government to reinforce security in refugee facilities, particularly as armed robbery and ambushes have increased along the Niger-Mali border.
This is not the first attack on a Malian refugee camp in Niger. In September, seven people were shot at in an attack at the nearby Tabareybarey refugee camp, resulting in the deaths of a five-year-old refugee boy and an 18-year-old woman.
Tazalite currently hosts 4,000 refugees who, in 2012, fled the desert regions of Northern Mali after their lands became the location of a large-scale separatist movement for the establishment of Azawad, a territory for the nomadic Tuareg fought for by rebel groups. Violence and civil war continued after a coup d’état, and Islamists entered the picture capturing towns in the northern region for groups, such as Boko Haram. Civilians were expected to return to Mali after a peace deal in 2013 and a 2015 peace accord between six fighting groups and the Malian government, civilians continued to flee.
UNHCR data indicates that out of the 135,000 Malians currently seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, 50-60,000 have been welcomed by Niger. The landlocked nation has been praised by organizations, such as UNHCR for displaying solidarity with neighbouring countries during the conflict (including providing refuge to 80,000 Nigerians affected by Boko Haram), despite a small and underfunded armed forces.
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