After displacement by Boko Haram, life remains a challenge
An international conference in Oslo draws attention to the plight of millions of people driven from their homes across Nigeria and the Lake Chad region by insurgency.
MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA (UNHCR) – The Boko Haram insurgency recently came to the humble home of Bintu in north-east Nigeria and turned her already hard life upside down. “My husband was slaughtered by the insurgents at our farm in Ngorodole,” the 30-year-old recalled recently in a camp for displaced persons in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.
She quickly decided to leave her village near the Cameroonian border and head to safety in Maiduguri with her four children. “I feel secure here, but would rather be at home,” she confided. Many others like her long for the security situation to improve throughout the north-east so that they can return home.
Some 950,000 internally displaced people (IDP) have returned to their home areas of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states since August 2015, and tens of thousands of Nigerians, including refugees, are estimated to have returned from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Many displaced Nigerians wish to return home when conditions improve, but the security situation remains precarious in many areas of origin, despite major gains by the military last year that have improved access to some areas.
A major international conference tomorrow in Oslo on displacement in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region will discuss the situation and possibilities for return. Participants will also discuss ways to strengthen the protection and solutions environment for the affected communities. Donor nations are expected to pledge fresh funds. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi will address the meeting.
Sustainable and durable return will depend on a number of factors. For example, there is a desperate need to rebuild core infrastructure, ensure access to basic services and revive local economies and food production as well as rebuild trust and foster reconciliation among affected people. Many of those who have sought to return home have found themselves in situations of secondary displacement, highlighting the continuing risks that the Boko Haram insurgency poses.
Urgent action is needed to create a solutions environment, as well as to assist those, like Bintu, who remain in displacement. A large number of those staying in camps in north-eastern Nigeria are women and children. The government, supported by the UN, is stepping up efforts to reunite families who may have been separated during the conflict.
UNHCR has also intensified training of aid workers, local government officials and community leaders to help in response and rebuilding, especially in Borno state, where the crisis is most severe and the insurgency threat most potent. “The importance of ensuring voluntary and sustainable returns in conditions of safety and dignity, and to avoid secondary displacement as returnees search for basic needs, including food, shelter and medical care, cannot be overemphasized,” said Brigitte Mukanga Eno, UNHCR’s acting representative in Nigeria. She added that premature returns, undertaken before conditions are in place, can give rise to serious protection risks and can undermine longer term peace and recovery efforts.