The United Nations reports armed men killed dozens of civilians and displaced thousands during increasingly violent and frequent attacks last month in the Diffa region in southeastern Niger. The Diffa region, which borders Nigeria and Chad, is home to more than 200,000 internally displaced people and refugees victimized by the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria.

U.N. officials say the spike in violence and displacement is related to increased activity by Boko Haram or Boko Haram-affiliated armed groups in the Lake Chad Basin. They report 88 civilians were killed last month alone, compared to a total of 107 civilian deaths during all of 2018.

Spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Jens Laerke told VOA the dramatic jump in the number of attacks and civilian deaths seems to indicate a shift in tactics by these armed groups. He said very vulnerable civilians appear to be deliberately targeted.

“So, it is not only armed men fighting armed men. It is also armed men fighting civilians, families, women and children. So, that is, of course, very disturbing. Some of those who have been targeted in these attacks in March were already displaced people and some were already refugees,” Laerke said.

The United Nations reported 21 attacks carried out in March forced nearly 18,500 people to flee their homes. It said they have joined the already heavily populated settlements of internally displaced people and refugees in the urban center of Diffa and surrounding areas.

Despite the increased violence in the region, Laerke said there will be no break in the U.N.’s humanitarian operations. He said aid workers will continue to assist the desperate people.

He said a recent assessment mission shows people are in critical need of water and sanitation, shelter, food and household items. He said the needs are there and the will to help is there. Unfortunately, he noted the money needed to provide this aid is not there.

He said the International community has contributed less than three percent of the U.N.’s $383 million appeal for humanitarian operations in Niger this year.

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