|Children at a refugee camp in southeast Niger|
Nearby, little girls who fled the brutal Islamists in neighbouring Nigeria huddle around jigsaw puzzles, while barefoot young boys in ragged clothes or shirtless play football and table tennis.
The camp has no school, but staff from UN agencies and specialised charities do their best to help the youngsters, who make up the majority of the around 6,000 refugees here who were routed from their villages by Boko Haram.
Special help is being provided by psychologists to 1,011 of the children, seen as among the most vulnerable victims of the violence, to adapt to a new life, often in the wake of terrible events.
"Many children were witnesses or the direct victims of atrocities by Boko Haram," says Adama Cossimbo, head of the psychological help centre financed by the Italian non-governmental organisation COOPI.
"Boko Haram forced some children to watch their mothers or sisters being raped," a UN relief worker says. "Others saw their father or their brother having his throat slit."
|Children stand next to a UNICEF tent at a refugee camp|
- 'On the right path' -
According to COOPI, many of the children show signs of mental illness.
"We're developing games and activities to strengthen their resilience after the trauma they've endured," says Cossimbo, who works with a psychologist and teachers.
Along with sports and games, relief workers give puzzles and memory quizzes to the children cared for at the centre.
|Psychologists say many children were witnesses or the direct victims of |
atrocities by Boko Haram (AFP)
Nine-year-old Ali lost part of his family in a Boko Haram raid and has said nothing for days on end, but he manages to whisper: "I escaped from Boko Haram and I feel good here."
For Ali's father, wealthy bell pepper grower Elhadj Gremah, forced exile is sheer "humiliation".
"In the village, my children had all they needed to eat. Here they don't go to school and they sometimes sleep on empty stomachs," he complains.
At Assaga, huts supported with tree branches compete with standard-issue tents provided by the United Nations. First created by UN staff three months ago, the camp looks like a shantytown.
|Children sing and dance in a refugee camp in Assaga, Niger|
These regional nations have joined forces against Boko Haram as the Islamists have launched bloody cross-border raids.
"The flow of refugees and the lack of resources seriously compromises our ability to provide vital aid on the ground," the UN agency recently reported.
During a visit to the Diffa zone in mid-September, Toby Lanzer, the UN regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, remarked on the "very severe security crisis" at Assaga.
"The situation here is atrocious," he added. "People are traumatised."
Diffa has for three years been confronted with food shortages because of successive periods of drought and floods. The arrival of about 150,000 refugees since 2013 has worsened the situation for local poor people.
"We have to act right now to save lives," insists Rotimy Djossaya, the local chief of the American NGO CARE. The authorities warn that Niger, a deeply poor country, could face another food crisis in 2016 because of a poor harvest.