GENEVA (Reuters) - Violence in northwest Nigeria has forced around 20,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Niger since April, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.
It voiced concern about deteriorating security conditions in the West African country, where military and police have been deployed to tackle criminal gangs behind a spate of killings and kidnappings.
Security forces are already stretched tackling the decade-long insurgency by Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast.
"This is not Boko Haram related in any way," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told a media briefing. "People are reportedly fleeing due to multiple reasons, including clashes between farmers and herders of different ethnic groups, vigilantism, as well as kidnappings for ransom," he said.
The announcement came the day before the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the former military leader who secured a second term in February elections promising to improve security.
The Senate, the country's upper house of parliament, last month increased the 2019 budget by 80 billion naira ($261 million) citing the need for a rise in spending on security across the country.
Baloch said refugees arriving in Niger's southern Maradi region had reported machete attacks, kidnappings and sexual violence.
Banditry has plagued the northwest for years, particularly around Zamfara state and its border with Kaduna state, though a recent spate of kidnappings and killings in the region has put it in the public eye.
Authorities suspended mining in Zamfara in April amid concerns that illegal miners were connected to a rise in violence.
Clashes between farming communities and nomadic herders over dwindling land in Nigeria last year killed more people than the Boko Haram conflict, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
($1 = 306.4500 naira)
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Jon Boyle and Andrew Heavens)