Nigeria: Thousands flee to Cameroon after attack in Rann

Thousands of people are fleeing an attack in northeastern Nigeria to find safety across the river in Cameroon.
CAMEROON 2019 © Silas Adamou/MSF
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GENEVA/NEW YORK, JANUARY 16, 2019—After a nonstate armed group attacked the town of Rann, northeastern Nigeria, on January 14, thousands of people are fleeing across the border to Cameroon, without food, water, or shelter, and many are in a state of shock because of the violence, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

An MSF team is providing food, water and emergency medical care to people arriving by foot in the Cameroonian border town of Bodo, roughly four miles from Rann.

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"Our team in Bodo estimates that some 8,000 people arrived yesterday, and we expect several thousand more may come today," said Hugues Robert, MSF program manager for Nigeria. "We are preparing to assist 15,000 people with food, water, and medical care over the coming days. Many were in a state of shock and were clearly distressed by what they had witnessed. Now they have lost all that they have and need absolutely everything."

Near Bodo, many people have spent last night outdoors as there are no shelters. There are children and many breastfeeding and pregnant women among them.

An MSF medical team arrived in Bodo on January 15. MSF teams are bringing medical supplies and are preparing to support the local health center.
CAMEROON 2019 © MSF

Rann, a town held by the Nigerian military, has been heavily affected by the conflict in northeastern Nigeria in recent years. MSF has been providing primary health care in Rann and responded to a cholera outbreak in November 2018, carrying out preventive activities in the community and treating 55 patients in its cholera treatment unit.

Many parts of the town of Rann were burned during the attack, including houses and shelters, the town market and food stores. An MSF warehouse, office and pharmacy in Rann were looted and burned to the ground. Empty boxes of medical supplies were lying scattered on the ground outside.

"This is truly devastating for the people in Rann," said Robert. "They suffer endless violence. And now they have to get back on their feet once more. How many more times is this possible? The people of Borno continue to pay the price for this merciless conflict. All the warring parties must respect the safety of civilians."

An MSF nurse, Isa Sadiq Bwala, who visited Rann yesterday to assess medical needs, reported that most residents had fled to Bodo, yet some remained. He provided the following account:

MSF nurse Isa Sadiq Bwala in Rann
MSF nurse Isa Sadiq Bwala in Rann

"What struck me when we arrived was the silence. Usually Rann bustles with life, but yesterday it was eerie and quiet, like a graveyard. Usually kids run around and play, but yesterday the only ones I saw were standing around quietly, looking anxious. The town has been devastated and I was devastated to see it. Many parts of the town have been burnt. There was still smoke drifting in the sky and the fires were still burning in places. I met a woman who was just back from the burial of her elderly mother, who had died inside her burning home. She burnt to death inside because she couldn't escape the fire. 

"MSF's base, office, and pharmacy have been burnt to the ground. All that's left are piles of ashes. When I arrived, the tent where we store our equipment was still on fire. The buildings of other humanitarian organizations have also been looted and burnt. Luckily, all of our staff from Rann are safe. Several have fled to Cameroon, along with the majority of the population of Rann. We evacuated one man with a gunshot wound. I was told that other people had been injured too, but it seems they have left for Cameroon.

"I saw a long line of people leaving for Cameroon—women, children, and men, of all ages. Some had donkeys but many were just carrying their belongings. The ones I spoke to said they were leaving because they were too afraid to stay. There is not much left for them to stay for anyway: their homes are gone, and I don't know what they would live on. The market was burnt and looted—food stores also. There is nowhere to get food from. People who don't have any food at home will not be able to get any more."

An MSF team and others erect a tent in Bodo, Cameroon.
An MSF team and others erect a tent in Bodo, Cameroon.
CAMEROON 2019 © MSF