LONDON Sept 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Attacks by militant groups in northeast Nigeria have led thousands of people to seek refuge in Cameroon over recent days, some sleeping in schools and churches, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said.
Last week militant groups from Nigeria crossed the border and attacked villages on the Cameroon side, slitting the throats of three people in a Catholic church in the village of Assighassia, burning down police stations and a local cotton company, UNCHR reported.
"The UNHCR is very concerned that even once they have crossed into Cameroon, they are still being pursued by insurgents and we have already started to relocate some of the refugees to a refugee camp where they can enjoy safer conditions," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
The attacks in the past three weeks in the Gwoza area of Nigeria’s Borno state pushed the number of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon to some 39,000, according to local authorities, including 19,633 who have been registered by the UNHCR.
UNHCR has begun to move 80 of the new refugees, mainly women and children, from Koza near the border to the refugee camp of Minawao, some 120 km (75 miles) from the frontier. The camp is already hosting some 6,000 Nigerian refugees who were moved from the border in 2013 and 2014.
"They told us that when their homes were attacked some days ago in Gokou, in Nigeria's Borno State, their husbands had sent them with their children to hide in the surrounding mountains," Edwards said after speaking to some of the refugee women.
"They later saw heavy smoke coming from their village, which made them fear insurgents had burnt their homes. They waited until night time and had to walk some 30 km (19 miles) to Koza. They have had no news of their husbands," he added.
The UN agency did not name the insurgents who had carried out the attacks, but the largest insurgent group in northeast Nigeria is Boko Haram, a Sunni jihadist movement whose name means "Western education is forbidden.”
Boko Haram has killed thousands since launching an uprising in 2009 to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria, and is by far the biggest threat to Nigeria’s economy.
(Editing by Ros Russell, firstname.lastname@example.org)