A patrol of the Niger national Police drives past the French Embassy in Niamey on August 28, 2023. AFP
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said it had revised contingency planning for Niger since a military coup on July 26 toppled President Mohamed Bazoum.
"The ongoing political crisis, with no clear solution in sight, is generating uncertainty and concern as the country continues to experience repeated attacks by non-state armed groups, especially near the Mali and Burkina Faso borders," Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR's representative in Niger, told reporters in Geneva.
With violence and attacks displacing more than 20,000 people in the past month alone, he cautioned that "the situation has heightened protection risks for refugees, asylum-seekers and their hosts".
UNHCR witnessed a 50-percent increase in so-called protection incidents, including kidnapping, gender-based violence and domestic violence, just in the five days following the coup, he said.
- Sanction impact -
Gignac pointed out that the border closures and sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the new military rulers had sent already-high food and commodity prices soaring.
Particularly concerning, he said, was that the sanctions currently include no humanitarian exceptions, which could lead to a dire lack of food and other aid to those most in need.
While the full impact of the sanctions may not be felt immediately, Gignac warned that over time, "If they are not lifted ... and we are not able to bring in sufficient humanitarian aid, it could have some catastrophic effects".
The sanctions, along with an expected increase in violence by non-state armed groups "have worsened the already dire humanitarian outlook for vulnerable populations," UNHCR warned.
Most at risk were the some 350,000 Niger nationals already displaced inside the country and the equal number of refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries.
The UN agency said that so far there were no reports of major population movements from Niger to neighbouring countries, but did not rule it out in the case of a military intervention or other shocks.
Gignac stressed that humanitarians currently were "not ready ... to address a sudden influx or population movement" in a matter of days.
"That is why it is important to get this regime of exception for the sanctions in place," he said.