17 March 2014

Nigeria: Boko Haram Have Displaced Hundreds of Thousands

Delegates from Nigeria's many religious, ethnic and linguistic groups are meeting for a conference in Abuja to discuss the country's future. The plight of the internally displaced is a reminder of unresolved tensions.

Nigerians living in the north east of their country live in constant fear of attacks by the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram. Many have therefore fled to neighboring countries or neighboring Nigerian states.

Laraba Ahmed Karwu works for the State Emergency Management Service (SEMA) in Gombe state. She is sitting in a comfortable stool watching a film on a laptop. A generator could he heard running outside.

Karwu is responsible for displaced persons in Gombe state, but she doesn't appear to be very busy.

Laraba Ahmed Karwu works for SEMA which is tasked with helping the internally displaced

"80 percent of the returnees were originally residents of Gombe," she said. "So when they come back, they know where they can turn to for inquiries about their relatives. In other words, they are not helpless," she said.

Karwu was referring displaced persons mainly from the northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where the government declared a state of emergency in May 2013 in response to attacks blamed on Boko Haram.

Thousands of people have been killed in the insurgency since it started in 2009. Nearly 300,000 people in the crisis-hit states have fled to other parts of Nigeria, according to estimates from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).

Just as Karwu was explaining that returnees were only coming back in small numbers, an employee enters her office to report the arrival of a group of 200 refugees in the small village of Yamaltu Deba nearby.

Villagers helping refugees

Yamaltu Deba lies shortly before Gombe's border with the state of Borno. One family has just taken in 40 refugees. Women are sitting with their children under a tree and they all look very tired.

The head of the hospitable family is Omar Isah. Some of those in the group are his relatives while the others are strangers, the displaced, who did not know where to go. "We will manage, we will share our food with them," Isah said.

"The neighbors help us to cook for our guests. It's tradition in our community. When something like this happens, we help each other," he added.

The Nigerian government imnposed a state of emergency on the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in May 2013

The displaced persons are dependent on help from others because they when they fled their homes they left almost everything they owned behind.

"People are living in absolute fear because of the constant attacks," says Tijani Hussein, from a neighboring village where the Boko Haram killed 43 students in their dormitory. " There is no peace and no one knows when or if they could be the next victim."

'More refugees - more tensions'

Amina Alhaji Ali clasps her little son in her arms. She just gave birth to him two days before she had to flee her home. The twenty three year mother is uncertain what the future holds for and her new born baby.

"I do not care where I live. The main thing is that my child can grow up in peace," she said.

Amina Alhaji Ali and her baby hope the insurgency will soon be over

The ever increasing number of refugees, particularly In Nigeria's larger cities, could have serious repercussions, said Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi, director of Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Nigeria's capital Abuja.

"When people move to cities that are already short of jobs and that are already over populated, then they will be not received with open arms. There will be tension," she said.

Back in the small village of Deba Yamaltu, more staff from the emergency management agency, SEMA, have suddenly appeared. They wish to inquire what sort of emergency supplies are needed.

It is possible that the presence of the media has goaded them into action.

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