The drivers and triggers of displacement in Niger often overlap. Changes in rainfall patterns have caused both drought and flash flooding that destroy crops and deepen food insecurity. This often results in competition for scarce resources and enflames intercommunal tensions between pastoralists and farmers that trigger displacement. The country faces a growing extremist threat in the regions of Diffa, Maradi, Tahoua and Tillaberi, where fighting between government forces, self-defence groups and non-state armed groups has spilled over from neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria.
At least 136,000 new conflict displacements were recorded in 2020, more than double the number of 2019. Flooding also triggered 276,000 new displacements during the year. Data on drought-related displacement is still unavailable, although there is anecdotal evidence that it is occurring.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
Niger’s south-eastern region of Diffa has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency since 2015. The region’s historical religious, cultural, and economic ties to Nigeria’s Borno state, where Boko Haram emerged in 2002, has made it relatively easy for the group to entrench itself in Diffa. The group initially used the region as a place to seek refuge, funds and recruits, but has been consolidating its presence and conducting a series of attacks that have triggered displacement over the years. Boko Haram and other non-state armed groups have also aggravated intercommunal tensions which have escalated into a deadly conflict on the shores of Lake Chad. Nearly 103,000 people were internally displaced in the Diffa region alone as of December 2020.
The presence and actions of extremist groups in the south-west regions of Tahoua and Tillaberi, that share borders with Burkina Faso and Mali, have also triggered large-scale displacement. Attacks on civilians and the presence of explosive devices have forced people to flee, and some have done so pre-emptively. Non-state armed groups have also exploited intercommunal tensions. The ensuing violence has been far deadlier than that previously experienced by communities, and has displaced at least as many people as the direct attacks conducted by extremist groups. An estimated 137,000 people were living in internal displacement as of the end of 2020 in Tahoua and Tillaberi alone.
The southern region of Maradi also faced increased levels of internal and cross-border displacements in 2020. The region has become a bridge of violence between the Lake Chad region and the Liptako Gourma region, two previously distinct zones of instability. Competition over natural resources and clashes between different communities of Nigerians and Nigeriens have resulted in increased internal displacement in what was once a peaceful region of Niger. Non-state armed groups have taken advantage of these tensions to carry out attacks and further expand their reach across the Sahelian belt. As a result of the instability, the Maradi region hosted more than 17,000 IDPs as of November 2020.
Sudden and slow-onset disasters displace people in Niger each year. The government issued a decree in 2017 that prohibits the building of homes in flood-prone areas, but construction in such areas continues, and whole neighborhoods are repeatedly inundated during the rainy season. Flooding triggered more than 276,000 new displacements in 2020, many of them involving people who had already fled previous events in the same areas of the Tahoua, Tillaberi, Diffa and Maradi. The capital city, Niamey, was also heavily affected when the Niger river broke its banks during the rainy season.
Drought has also triggered significant displacement, but numbers are hard to come by. The phenomenon is difficult to record because it takes place gradually over a long period of time. Drought and conflict displacement are also interlinked, and it is not easy to differentiate between them. For pastoralists, it results from their livelihoods reaching a critical threshold below which they are not sustainable. The threshold is reached because drought episodes have become more frequent and intense.
The number of new displacements reported in Niger during 2020 increased to 136,000, as compared with 57,000 in 2019. Although most people move within regions, IDPs also seek refuge in other areas of the country and also in neighbouring countries. As borders between Niger and Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria are open, displacement is a highly dynamic process that also implies cross-border flight. The region of Diffa was home to more than 126,000 refugees from Nigeria as of December 2020, following an increase in the arrival of people fleeing criminal violence in the early part of the year. A significant number of refugees from Mali also live in Tahoua and Tillaberi.
Drought displacement takes different forms in Niger. Vulnerable farmers often have no choice but to migrate seasonally to urban areas in search of alternative incomes to ensure their households’ survival. These movements, referred to locally as the “exodus”, increase during times of drought. Seasonal migration driven by poverty may be an adaptive strategy, but it is not always a choice. It is a form of distress migration and should be considered displacement.
Throughout 2020, the regions of Maradi, Diffa, Tillaberi and Tahoua recorded a thirty-seven per cent increase in the total number of IDPs. This came with growing humanitarian needs. On top of being displaced, many IDPs are subject to gender-based violence, forced recruitment and extorsion. The regions of Diffa and Tillaberi alone recorded over 50 per cent of the total number of the incidents of gender-based violence in the country.
As many IDPs sustain their livelihoods through agropastoralism, they see their livelihoods affected as armed groups steal their land and cattle. This has also resulted in increased levels of food insecurity, especially in the regions of Tahoua and Tillabéri, where IDPs are facing more challenges to receive humanitarian assistance. Displaced populations in the regions of Tillaberi, Tahoua and Diffa, who often find themselves at a crossroad of violence, are also the most affected by disasters. Many live in overcrowded camps, tents and unfinished buildings that are more vulnerable to floods.
The Covid-19 pandemic added a health emergency to what was an already concerning humanitarian crisis. This created an additional burden on a region grappling with fragile national health systems, limited access to water and sanitation facilities and precarious living conditions in overcrowded communities.
Violence, floods, and the Covid-19 pandemic have also had a significant impact on the schooling system in the country. Over 300 schools are closed while 29 have been attacked by armed groups, depriving hundreds of children from education and schooling in 2020.
Niger became one of the first country to domesticate the Kampala Convention when it adopted a law on internal displacement in 2018. The law addresses displacement triggered by conflict, human rights violations, disasters, and development projects. It recognises IDPs’ rights, provides for their protection, and envisages support for ending displacement as defined by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Framework on Durable Solutions. It also promotes regional and national measures to prevent and mitigate the factors that lead to displacement.
The law specifies budgets and funding mechanisms to address displacement, assigns responsibility to specific agencies for its prevention and calls for coordination between national and international agencies in protecting and assisting IDPs.