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Niger breaks up Sudanese refugees sit-in as fire destroys their camp

Agadez camp in Niger destroyed by Sudanese refugees on 4 January 2020 ( Tadress 24 info Photo)
January 4, 2020 (KHARTOUM) - Niger’s authorities forcibly broke up a sit-in of Sudanese refugees outside UNHCR office in the arid area of Agadez, while some of them reportedly set ablaze the camp once returned by the police.

Hundreds of Sudanese refugees in Niger had staged a sit-in outside the office of the UN agency for refugees in Agadez on 16 December to protest the bad conditions in the camp. Also, they blamed the UNHCR officials for neglecting them pointing to the long delay in the processing of asylum requests.

For their part, the international officials asked the refugees to end the protest and return to their camps first before to deal with their demands. However, the Sudanese who had fled the insecurity in Libya refused to regain the camp.

On Saturday morning, local officials and police and security officers surrounded the sit-inners and asked them to take the vehicles they brought with them to return to their camp 15 km from Agadez.

Refugees who requested anonymity told Sudan Tribune that the security forces beat the refugees and shoved them to the vehicles when they refused the orders to evacuate the site.

Photos and videos of the raid showed protesters severely injured on the head and legs.

Aid workers in the area said the local authorities three days ago had informed the UNHRC of their plan to disperse the sit-in.

Tragic development

Once the authority forcibly moved the first batch of protesters back to the camp, a huge fire tore through the refugee camp and reduced it to ashes.

When asked about the authors of the blaze some refugees said "irresponsible" refugees were desperate and set fire on the camp to protest the forced return to the camp.

The tents were highly flammable, aid workers said.

For his part, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation, said in a tweet on Saturday that the Sudanese refugees destroyed the camp because they demand to be resettled in Europe.

"80% of the reception centre destroyed by a minority of refugees from Darfur in Agadez who only want to hear about resettlement to Europe," said Cochetel.

"Destroying the asylum space in Niger or elsewhere is easier than building and protecting it. It is a sad day for refugee protection in Niger," he added.

The authorities arrested many refugees while others fled in the desert and their whereabouts are unknown.

Also, it is not clear what the Nigerien authorities will do for the over 200 refugees who were waiting outside the UNHCR office to be transported to the camp.

Refugees say they fear that they would be transported to Madama on the border between Niger and Libya.

On 7 May 2018, Nigerien police deported 135 Sudanese refugees to Madama and expelled to Libya as they had already protested the bad conditions in Agadez camp. The move had been denounced by critics as a violation of international law.

(ST)