Some 7 000 people have fled from villages around the northeast Nigerian town of Chibok because of Boko Haram attacks, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Wednesday.
The IOM said an estimated 4 449 people or 740 households have fled to Chibok itself since February 25, “seeking safety following attacks or threats of attacks in some neighbouring villages”.
“These movements are in addition to the estimated 300 people who fled to Chibok town around February 10,” it added in a briefing document seen by AFP.
“The staff also report that about 2 000 people fled from Kaya village, near Chibok town, to (the nearby town of) Damboa recently, in search of safety.”
Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency has left at least 20 000 people dead in northeast Nigeria since it began in 2009 and has displaced more than 2.6 million others.
Chibok became a global symbol of the conflict after the militants kidnapped more than 200 teenage girls from their school in the town in April 2014. Most are still being held.
Despite a military fight-back, villages near Chibok, which is 125km by road from the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, have seen a wave of suspected Boko Haram attacks.
The region is near the Sambisa Forest, a former national park where the Islāmic State group affiliate had bases.
On February 9, rebel fighters pushed out of the area by the army were blamed for looting food stores in Kaumutaiyahi village, about 15km from Chibok.
A spokesperson for the Chibok community, Manasseh Allen, said the town was struggling to accommodate those who had fled in recent days.
“We don’t have the place to settle them, especially now that schools in the area have reopened,” he said, referring to the use of schools as temporary camps for the displaced.
Allen said town leaders had appealed to the IOM and the Borno state government for tents to accommodate the new arrivals – and he expects more to come.
“The general Sambisa area is still infested with Boko Haram,” he said.
“The misconception is that with the takeover of Camp Zairo (the group’s main base in the forest), Boko Haram has been defeated.
“There are so many villages from where Boko Haram fighters have not been cleared.”
Allen said the villagers had been told to leave because of impending military operations in the area. There was no immediate confirmation from the army.
Another community leader, Ayuba Alamson, said the extremists remained in the wider Chibok district, as well as around Damboa, which is 40km to the northwest, and Askira Uba, 25km to the south.
Residents of nearby villages leave their homes at night in fear of attacks, he added.
Boko Haram attack for food “and they have taken a huge amount of harvest in the last two weeks from raids in the Chibok area,” he said.