Aid workers in Borno state say displaced people living in camps have no plans to go back home despite government claims that insurgents have been defeated
19 January 2017
An abandoned village between Mafa and Dikwa towns in Borno state
The homecoming of tens of thousand of Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency has been prevented by enduring fear of the Islamists and reluctance to return to areas of the country’s north-east devastated by the campaign against the militants, according to aid workers.
The continued threat posed by Boko Haram was underlined on Monday when twin suicide bombings killed two people at a university in Maiduguri. The city is the provincial capital of Nigeria’s north-east Borno state, the epicentre of the group’s seven-year campaign to create a regional Islamic caliphate.
Nigerian military officials have trumpeted the end of the war on the jihadists, but an advance team from one major aid group said there was little sign that displaced people in two outlying areas of Borno state intended to return home.
“We had been led to expect – from talking to government officials and even some UN people – that there were going to be imminent mass returns, that the closure of the camps in the city of Maiduguri was coming, and that areas had been secured,” said Adrian Ouvry, a regional humanitarian adviser at Mercy Corps.
“Out of all the people we spoke to, not a single one said they were about to return, even though there is an urgent need to do so, to plant before the rains come in late May. There was no sense of any intent to return among the IDPs [internally displaced persons], and that surprised me.”
Last week, the head of the UN’s humanitarian arm emphasised the urgency of the crisis in a region gripped by severe hunger.
Ouvry, who visited Dikwa and Ngala, where nearly 100,000 displaced people are living in camps, said the towns seemed generally safe but that people felt trapped and unable to return home.
“It’s also causing a bottleneck because many of the IDPs who are in camps in Maiduguri can’t go back because the homes they would be going back to are destroyed, and even those they would be going back to are filled with IDPs from the surrounding areas,” he added.
Ouvry said the level of devastation in the countryside was shocking. “On either side of the main roads leading up to towns, every settlement had been burned out and cleared, in some cases by the Nigerian military because they wanted to secure the road and not have hiding places for Boko Haram ambushes.”
The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last Thursday that the crisis in the Lake Chad basin area, which is affecting Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has grown in the past six months.
Addressing the UN security council, Stephen O’Brien said the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance, which stood at 9 million in July, had now risen to 10.7 million. This included 8.5 million people in north-east Nigeria and 1.6 million in north Cameroon.
Forecasts suggested the situation could get even worse, O’Brien warned. Global donors gave more than $238m (£194m) to the Lake Chad basin appeal in the second half of 2016, triple the amount contributed in the preceding six months, yet the UN still only raised 49% of its target.
Elsewhere, the UN and the government of Central African Republic last week launched a new response plan for the 2017-19 period to meet the basic needs of 2.2 million people in the country, where the UN said the security situation has “deteriorated markedly” in recent months. In a rare departure from its usual work, the aid group Médecins Sans Frontières said last week that it had distributed food to almost 10,500 people in seven different sites in the country’s north.