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Thousands escaped Boko Haram in Nigeria — now they're starving to death

Humanitarian workers discovered 24,000 people sheltering in a makeshift camp in a former militant stronghold, with more than 1,200 dead and hundreds of starving children.

by Reuters News Agency
Jun 23 2016, 1:46pm

Des réfugiés dans un camp de la ville de Diffa en juin 2016. Photo de Luc Gnago/Reuters

More than 1,200 people have died from starvation and illness at an aid camp in northeastern Nigeria that houses people fleeing the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Thursday.

MSF said its team found 24,000 people, including 15,000 children, sheltering in the camp located on a hospital compound during a visit to Bama last month — its first trip to the city since it was wrested from Boko Haram's control in March 2015.

The city was part of an area around the size of Belgium that was held by Boko Haram for more than six months before being pushed out by the army.

MSF said "a catastrophic humanitarian emergency is currently unfolding" at the camp, adding that around a fifth of 800 children who underwent medical screening were acutely malnourished and that almost 500 children had died.

"We have been told that people including children there have starved to death," Ghada Hatim, MSF head of mission in Nigeria, said. "We were told that on certain days more than 30 people have died due to hunger and illness."

During its assessment, the MSF team counted 1,233 graves near the camp that had been dug in the past year. It said 480 of these graves belonged to children.

More than 15,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon during Boko Haram's seven-year insurgency, in which the group has tried to create a state adhering to sharia, Islamic law.

Nigeria's army, aided by troops from neighboring countries, has recaptured most of the territory that was lost to the group. But the jihadist group, which last year pledged loyalty to Islamic State, still regularly stages suicide bombings.

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