“We are living a difficult situation”: Catholic Missionary after Scores Killed in Niger


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“We are living a difficult situation”: Catholic Missionary after Scores Killed in Niger

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE , 25 March, 2021 / 6:19 PM (ACI Africa).- 

Following the attack on a series of villages in Niger last weekend, reportedly the deadliest attack by suspected jihadists that left scores of people dead, a Catholic Missionary Cleric in the West African nation says they are “living a difficult situation.”

In an interview with ACI Africa Thursday, March 25, Fr. Arokiya Dass, a member of the Society of African Missions (SMA), appeals for spiritual solidarity.

Last Sunday, March 21, suspected jihadists on motorcycles stormed the villages of Intazayene, Bakorat, and Wistane in Niger’s Tahoua region that borders Mali in an attack that left at least 137 people dead, according to multiple media reports.

“I was saddened and shocked when I got the news that 137 innocent civilians were killed by Islamist militants in Tahoua region. We are living in a very difficult situation here in Niger, put us in your prayers,” Fr. Arokiya told ACI Africa.

According to the Indian-born SMA member, Niger’s Tahoua region located in the Catholic Diocese of Maradi where he ministers is “very insecure given that it borders Mali and Burkina Faso, the stronghold of Islamists militants.” 

“Many people have fled the area due to constant attacks and persistent insecurity,” Fr. Arokiya who is the Parish Priest of St. Gérard Dogondoutchi of Niger’s Maradi Diocese told ACI Africa, adding, “Women and children are the primary victims of violence in Niger.”

The 35-year-old Catholic Cleric who has been a missionary in Niger since 2015 further said, “The deteriorating security situation makes humanitarian intervention complicated, dangerous if not impossible.”

In an official statement issued Monday, March 22, Mohamed Bazoum-led government condemned the March 21 attacks on the villages terming them “brutal acts perpetrated by individuals who know neither faith nor the law.”

In the statement read on Niger’s national television, the government spokesman, Abdourahamane Zakari, provided details of the attacks saying, “In the afternoon of Sunday, March 21, 2021 at around 1 p.m. (12OOGMT), the localities of Intazayane, Bakorat, Wirsnat and several other hamlets and camps located in the department of Tillia, Tahoua region, witnessed an attack perpetrated by armed bandits.”

“Reinforced security and sanitary measures will be taken in the region and an investigation has been launched to find the perpetrators of these cowardly and criminal acts, and bring them before the courts,” Mr. Zakaria said.

A three-day national mourning was declared to pay tribute to the victims of the March 21 attacks, beginning Tuesday, March 23.

In the March 25 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Arokiya said recommended the fostering dialogue among members of different religions in Niger saying, “Interreligious dialogue is important in resolving this issue. I think it is important for the various parties to come together and seek a common ground that will benefit all but most especially the innocent citizens who are the victims of this violence and bloodshed.”

He appealed to members of the international community for spiritual solidarity saying, “Pray for Niger; pray for the people of God in this country. All we need is your prayers especially for the families of victims of the recent attacks.”

On Wednesday, March 24, Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the victims of the March 21 attacks.

“I learned with sorrow the news of the recent terrorist attacks in Niger, which caused the deaths of 137 people,” the Holy Father tweeted.

He added, “Let us pray for the victims, for their families and for the entire population so that the violence suffered may not cause them to lose trust in the path of democracy, justice and peace.”

The March 21 attacks on the villages in Niger came hardly a week when, on March 15, unidentified armed gangs attacked civilians returning from a weekly market in the country’s region of Tillaberi near the border with Mali.

At least 58 people lost their lives following the March 15 attack.

Both Tillaberi and Tahoua regions of Niger that border Northern Mali have been scenes of recurrent armed attacks since 2017, a situation that has occasioned the placing of the two regions under a state of emergency. The attacks are attributed to terrorist groups that operate in Northern Mali, according to a news report.

At the beginning of the year, the United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) condemned “in the strongest terms the twin attacks in wester Niger that killed at least 100 people, injured 25 others, and forced hundreds to flee on 2 January.”

“We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of these outrageous attacks on peaceful communities,” UNHCR’s Representative in Niger, Alessandra Morelli, was quoted as saying in reference to “communities which are now torn apart by brutality and forced to flee in a region where tens of thousands of people displaced by violence are hosted and hoping to rebuild their lives.”

“Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali in the Sahel are at the epicentre of one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement and protection crises. The region is already hosting 851,000 refugees and nearly two million displaced inside their own country,” According to UNHCR’s January 4 report.

SOURCE: ACI AFRICA. Published with permission.

PHOTO CREDIT: WorldAtlas.com

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