As Nigeria fights near-daily attacks from Islamist militants Boko Haram, thousands of migrants are fleeing back to their home countries of Niger and Chad.
The U.N. news agency, IRIN, reports that a thousand migrants have returned to Chad, with more arriving every day. Last week, authorities in Niger said 10,000 Niger nationals had fled sectarian violence in Nigeria, Reuters reports.
Boube Yaye, Niger's permanent secretary in charge of Niger residents abroad, told Reuters that 13 Niger nationals had been mistakenly identified as Boko Haram members and arrested.
In Chad, about 100 returning residents have arrived over the past two days in need of “everything,” the U.N. reports. Food and water are the most pressing concerns for aid workers, who say the many breast-feeding mothers among the displaced have eaten little or nothing for about a week.
Migrants told aid workers they fled their homes after they were caught up in the fight between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government’s security forces:
“The Boko Haram militant group attacked them, burning down houses. Police and military forces then arrived and started firing at those who remained, claiming they were Boko Haram supporters,” reports IRIN.
About 80 percent of 557 unaccompanied children that recently fled Nigeria for Chad are students, sent to Nigeria for a Koranic education. Currently, villagers are sharing supplies with the new arrivals, but there is not enough to go around, UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Jules Laouhingamaye told IRIN.
“We’re doing what we can to help get them sanitation materials, but food is needed now,” he said.
Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is a sin,” is believed to be responsible for 1,000 deaths since it began violent operations in 2009. In the past three months, the group has killed hundreds of people in near-daily attacks. Targets have included churches, police stations, government offices and most recently, schools.
More from GlobalPost: Nigeria: Boko Haram violence threatens nation
US officials urged Nigerian authorities to develop the mostly-Muslim northern provinces in an effort to unseat Boko Haram’s support base. The group is believed to be tied to al-Qaeda, and says it intends on establishing Sharia law in Nigeria.
More from GlobalPost: U.S. supports Nigeria against Islamist militants
The Heritage Foundation, a U.S.-based conservative think tank says the group is a security threat to Nigeria, the region, and beyond.
“Not only is Nigeria the largest African oil exporter to the U.S. but its peacekeeping contributions are the largest on the continent, as is its population,” reads a statement on its website.