A spate of deadly Islamist attacks has sent thousands of Nigerians fleeing to neighboring Chad. A domestic issue in a looming general election, Nigeria's chronic insecurity is igniting concern outside its borders.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that some 7,300 people had fled from northeastern Nigeria to Chad "in the past 10 days."
They were fleeing attacks by suspected Boko Haram insurgents on Baga town and surrounding villages on Saturday (03.01.14). The town, which is situated in Borno state, lies close to Lake Chad, where the borders of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon converge.
Adrian Edwards, UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, said that with recent influxes "Chad is now hosting 10,000 refugees," adding that its government had requested assistance from aid agencies.
Details of what happened in Baga are sketchy but Daniel Eyre, Nigeria's researcher for the rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on Friday "that if reports that the town was razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as two thousand civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram's ongoing onslaught against the civilian population."
After Saturday's attack, the insurgents went on to destroy at least 16 towns and villages.
Children and parents separated
Edwards said the conflict in northeastern Nigerian had led to an exodus of about 135,000 people, of whom 35,000 have fled to Cameroon. More than three quarters of a million have been internally displaced within the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
In the chaos spread by the recent attacks, hundreds of children have been separated from their parents.
Sa'ad Bello, coordinator of five refugee camps hosting scores of unaccompanied children in Yola, capital of Adamawa state, said the youngsters had no idea whether their parents were dead or alive.
However, working with the International Red Cross, they have been able to reunite seven children with their parents.
More than just an election issue
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the Islamist insurgency in the past year. Boko Haram aims to establish an Islamic religious state in northern Nigeria.
Despite a state of emergency imposed in three states in May 2014, the military appear powerless to halt advances by Boko Haram.
"The Nigerian army under the commander-in-chief President Goodluck Jonathan have lost their reputation completely," Nigerian security analyst Hussanini Mongunu told DW's Hausa service,
Nigerian soldiers complain they are outgunned and outnumbered by the insurgents despite a defense budget of more than $5 billion (4.2 billion euros) a year.
Jonathan is seeking a second term in an election on February 14. His chief rival in what is expected to be a tightly contested vote is former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari.
But many question how Nigeria will be able to hold elections in the three northeastern states under the partial sway of Boko Haram.
With refugees - and insurgents - crossing borders into neighboring countries, the insurgency has ramifications beyond Nigerian domestic politics. President Paul Biya in neighboring Cameroon has appealed for international military assistance to fight Boko Haram.