Boko Haram militants ramp up attacks on refugee shelters in northeast Nigeria

Suicide bombers have killed and wounded dozens of people in recent months in a spate of attacks on camps and areas sheltering the displaced that bear the hallmarks of Boko Haram.

Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
A military vehicle drives into the Emir's palace in Bama on Aug. 31, 2016. The palace is the former headquarters of the Boko Haram militants in Borno, Nigeria.

Boko Haram militants are ramping up attacks on sites sheltering people uprooted by the jihadists' insurgency in northeast Nigeria, pushing the displaced from "one hell into another," a leading aid agency said on Friday.

The Islamists are seeking softer targets – such as camps hosting the displaced – as Nigeria's military offensive against the group intensifies, said the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Suicide bombers have killed and wounded dozens of people in recent months in a spate of attacks on camps and areas sheltering the displaced that bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram.

Civilians were caught up in violence on about 200 occasions last month – triple the total for June – and there have been at least 32 attacks on camps and sites for those uprooted by the conflict since July, according to latest data from the NRC.

"Camps sheltering innocent families fleeing war should be places of refuge," said Ernest Mutanga, head of programs for NRC in Nigeria. "But instead they are turning into death traps.

"Armed groups in this conflict are pushing people from one hell into another," he said in a statement.

Boko Haram's brutal eight-year campaign to carve out an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has killed about 20,000 people and forced more than 2.7 million to flee their homes.

Nigeria's military last year wrested back large swathes of territory from the Islamist insurgents. But the militants have struck back with renewed zeal since June, killing at least 170 people and weakening the army's control in the northeast.

The spike in violence is hindering aid work in the region, with agencies such as the NRC having been forced to temporarily suspend their operations in Maidiguri – the capital of Borno state – due to threats from Boko Haram.

"We are worried that if these attacks continue, a very bad situation will grow even worse when it comes to aid access and delivery," Jackie Okao, protection and advocacy adviser at the NRC in Nigeria, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

About 5.2 million people are expected to need food aid by the end of this month – an increase of 500,000 from the start of 2017 – in a region threatened with famine, according to the United Nations' World Food Program (WFP).

Yet the situation could be far worse with many areas cut off from help due to the threat of Boko Haram and the arrival of the rainy season restricting access, aid agencies say. 

This story was reported by the Thompson Reuters Foundation. 

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