GENEVA (Reuters) – The Islamist guerrillas of Boko Haram have made the swamplands of Lake Chad, where the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria meet, into a “war zone”, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
About 60,000 people in the area have had to leave their homes, many of them evacuated from Lake Chad’s islands, because of the possibility of attacks, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
“These people are living in desperate conditions, they lack livelihoods, they lack shelter, they lack food, they lack health care. So the kind of work that UNHCR and its partners have been doing in what has effectively become a war zone is very important,” UNHCR spokesman Leo Dobbs told a news briefing.
Five suicide bombers believed to belong to Boko Haram killed 33 people on Saturday in Baga Sola, directly across Lake Chad from Nigeria, a local government official said..
UNHCR’s Dobbs said the overall toll in the attacks on the market and the Kousseri refugee camp now stood at 47 dead, with dozens injured. At least 22 of the dead were at Kousseri, which houses displaced Chadians who have fled from Boko Haram.
All UNHCR staff in the area and the 7,139 refugees from Nigeria and Niger in a separate camp are safe, he added.
Boko Haram has proclaimed an emirate in northeastern Nigeria, enforcing a brutal interpretation of Islamic law, and also pushed into neighboring countries. Lake Chad’s islands, surrounded by swamps, make a convenient base.
“The attack at Baga Sola shows how vulnerable and isolated the displaced are in the lake area. But we welcome the (Chad) government’s stated determination to improve security,” Dobbs said.
“We remain committed to help the displaced in western Chad and urge the international community to continue supporting Chad.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey