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Africa

Nigerians demand prosecution after refugee camp bombing

Aid agencies in Nigeria are warning of a looming humanitarian disaster after the accidental government airstrike on a refugee camp. The death toll has now reached 70 including six aid workers.

Dozens of people were killed on Tuesday after a Nigerian military jet "accidentally" bombed a refugee camp in the Kala Balge area, in Borno state, a government spokesman confirmed.

The International Red Cross put the death toll at 70 and more than one hundred people injured. Shelters of the refugees were also destroyed. Thousands of families who were displaced by the government's offensive against the Islamist militants Boko Haram were sheltering in the densely populated settlement near the northern town of Rann.

"Fog of war"

At least two of the blasts were believed to have hit a site near Nigeria's border with Cameroon that was under the control of the Nigerian military. A campaign against the jihadist group is currently being waged around the target area. Nigeria called the incident at the camp a mistake and blamed it on a "fog of war."

 About 43,000 internally displaced people were sheltering at the camp. The death toll is expected to rise while scores of injured people are being airlifted to nearby hospitals for treatment.

Incidence of disrespect

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had been working in the camp vaccinating children against measles and providing other medical care at the time of the attack. "The camp had been under the control of the Nigerian military for at least six month," Florian Westphal, General Director of MSF Germany told DW.

Flüchtlingslager in Bama, Nigeria (Reuters/S.Ini)

Aid agencies warn of an increasing humanitarian crisis in refugee camps in Nigeria

"We were at the camp with the full knowledge and agreement of the Nigerian military. This camp was of civilian nature and this throws up a number of questions. We have to strongly condemn this incident of disrespect for the safety of civilians," Westphal added.

Urgent humanitarian assistance

MSF is involved in humanitarian operations in Nigeria's northeast and in neighboring Cameroon. According to Westphal, hundreds of thousands of people mostly displaced in Borno state and in five other towns visit their facilities. He said that the humanitarian operations in the region are difficult to organize, especially getting access to people in need.

"In many areas there is still fighting going on and it is hard to reach civilians," Westphal said. "In terms of medical care and malnutrition, the population in those areas urgently needs more humanitarian assistance."

The Nigerian Red Cross has been helping to bring desperately needed food to the site.

Local and international aid agencies have until recently been unable to get to Rann because of bad roads and insecurity in the remote region around Lake Chad. The military announced last month it had ousted Boko Haram from its camps in Sambisa Forest, in southern Borno state, sending the insurgents north.

Error is a tragedy

"[The insurgents] being driven away from their safe havens in the Sambisa forest posses the likelihood of them melting within the local population," said Nuhu Othman, a security analyst in Nigeria. "This error of the military is a tragedy and it shows the extent of the Nigerian capacity to undertake such kind of operations."

Boko Haram (Java)

The Islamist insurgents Boko Haram has been driven out of their stronghold in Sambisa forest

The government immediately took responsibility for the attack admitting it was a mistake. It is not a surprise, according to Othman. "They did apologize but Nigerians have called for an investigation and even prosecution of the pilots."

Othman added that the attack could not have been hidden because it happened within a refugee camp and people had witnessed it.

More attacks likely

The Nigerian army has increased its attacks against Boko Haram in what President Mohammadu Buhari described as one last effort to wipe the insurgents out. "The Nigerian army is currently building its capacity," Othman said.

"The government had difficulties to get arms and ammunition. They had to go to Pakistan and Russia for that because it is prohibited to sell weapons to any government in the world that is assumed to have violated human rights. Now we are very likely to see more incidents against the civilian population since the Boko Haram fighters are within the local population," he added.