Authorities in Niger have arrested at least 335 Sudanese refugees, accusing them of burning down a refugee camp just outside the city of Agadez in the north of the country.
Officials said the camp was burnt down after nearly 1,000 refugees protesting in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Agadez were forcibly dispersed.
For the last 20 days, these refugees and migrants, including women and children, said they had camped in front of the office, demanding better conditions, including healthcare and education. According to the UNHCR, these people were demanding relocation to Europe.
The sit-in was part of ongoing protests in Niger since early 2019.
On January 2, Niger's High Court ruled the sit-in was unlawful and ordered the refugees to move "before it was too late".
According to witnesses, the security guards tried to disperse protesters on Saturday by shooting in the air. However, more force was applied, and injuries were reported in the ensuing violence after the refugees and migrants refused.
Al Jazeera reports that video footage sent to them showed a man thrown off the roof of a building. The video was filmed by a Sudanese refugee who was loaded on a truck.
Following their arrival back at the camp, about 15km (nine miles) outside Agadez, security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds. A camp official said violence escalated again as people protested. UNHCR officials said the asylum seekers then set fire to the facility and a photographer on site said 290 out of the 331 shelters were gutted.
"It was very violent, and they were beating people up. We have many injured here with us", Daoud, a refugee from Darfur, told Al Jazeera by phone.
In a news conference held at the High Court of Agadez on Monday, where only state-run newspapers were invited, procureur general Seyni Saidou confirmed that security agents had to force people to disperse, citing municipal bylaw violations.
"During the removal operation, 162 mobile phones were confiscated, 31 knives and 12 iron bars were also taken from the demonstrators, and 335 people are now in custody," Saidou said.
Sources told Al Jazeera that the government is considering shutting down the camp.
One of the refugees at the camp told Al Jazeera that many asylum seekers had been waiting at the camp, located in a desert where temperatures often reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer, for more than two years without any clear update on their status.
The group protesting outside the UNHCR office travelled to the city on foot to submit a letter detailing deteriorating conditions at the camp.
Header Image Credit: Al Jazeera