20 June 2014

Nigeria: Thousands Flee Boko Haram Terror

Islamist terror group Boko Haram carries out murderous attacks almost every day in northern Nigeria. More and more people are leaving their homes to escape the killing. Two of them tell DW their stories.

A man who does not want to give his name sits nervously on a stone in a suburb of Nigeria's capital Abuja. From his hands, one can see that he has worked for many years as a farmer. But those times are over. A few weeks ago he and his wife came to Abuja - a completely new world for the two of them. Back home in their village in the state of Borno in northeastern Nigeria, a state of emergency is in force. It was imposed in response to the brutal attacks by Islamist sect Boko Haram whose adherents set fire to villages almost on a daily basis and kill civilians without compunction.

Two months ago Boko Haram fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from their boarding school in Chibok. "They are a band of lawless people. Everyone is afraid of them, that is why I fled," the man said. He added that he had seen people, including a priest, killed with machetes. He himself is a Christian - the only one in his otherwise Muslim family - but that had never been a problem. That is, until Boko Haram emerged as a radical terror group seeking to eliminate anyone who does not agree with their ideology. It is a source of great shame to him that his own brother joined the sect. "Many join Boko Haram because they are afraid they will be killed if they refuse. I have never seen my brother again since he joined," the man said.

Growing number of refugees

It is not only Christians who suffer from the terror. Since 2009, more than 5,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram, the majority of them Muslims. "It has nothing to do with religion - it is simply barbarism," Hafsat Maina Mohammed told DW. The journalist and mother of two left her home in Borno two years ago after she narrowly missed being killed in a Boko Haram attack. She now lives with her children in a two-room apartment in Kaduna, three hours drive from Abuja. She frequently takes in relatives and friends who have fled from the crisis region and have nowhere else to go. Sometimes there are up to nine people in the small apartment.

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) estimates that a quarter of a million people have fled from the region around the city of Maiduguri, hoping to escape the terror. More than 60,000 have crossed into neighboring countries Cameroon, Chad and Niger. There are few camps or any kind of state aid for them and most find at least temporary refuge with relatives.

There is no sign of the crisis ending soon. There have been no serious peace negotiations between the government and Boko Haram. The Nigerian military have made little progress against the insurgents and have been widely criticized for failing to act to protect civilians.

No good news

Hafsat Maina Mohammed wants to make a new life for herself in Kaduna and to work for a stronger dialogue between Christians and Muslims. News from home is seldom positive.

"It is heartbreaking. Borno is really on fire," she said. Her cousin's son was kidnapped by Boko Haram. "They murdered him because he did not want to fight with them. You can't get something like that out of your head," she told DW.

The man in Abuja also thinks constantly about what is going on back home. He has found a job as a security guard and can afford to buy food and pay the rent. But he dreams of going back to his village. If Boko Haram were to lay down their weapons, and his brother were to return, he says he would forgive them, since "somehow life must go on."


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