25 March 2016

Nigeria: Freed Boko Haram Hostages Recount Their Ordeals

Photo: Vanguard
Military patrol.

Cameroonian and Nigerian military forces have freed hundreds of Boko Haram captives, including dozens of teenage girls and women who were forced into marrying militants or held as sex slaves.

Cameroonian soldiers returned home this week after carrying out raids in Achigachia and Goshe, towns which straddle the the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Along with Nigerian troops, they were able to free hundreds of hostages from Boko Haram captivity.

Among those freed was 42-year-old Cameroonian businessman Minka Gregoire Sali. Gregoire was held by Boko Haram for three weeks after the bus he was riding in was ambushed.

"When we arrived in Nigeria we were held in chains and told we would only be freed if our families or government paid $4,000 (3,500 euros) per person or if we ourselves went out with other captives to steal and bring them money. We eventually escaped when the Cameroonian army attacked," he said.

Women and girls held

Aisha Moussa, who was also freed by the soldiers, said that when she was 14 years old, her parents sent her to get married to a Boko Haram militant who took her to a camp near the Cameroon-Nigeria border.

"After one year in the forests, my husband said our living conditions were getting worse and our lives threatened by frequent raids from the military. We then decided to escape and the opportunity came when Cameroon and Nigerian forces attacked and we surrendered to them," she said.

Aisha regrets that after they were freed, the Cameroonian military took her husband to an unknown location, while she was transported to the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon. She still has no information regarding the whereabouts of her husband.

Shakaria Habiba, a 42-year old woman from Achigachia, a town in Cameroon's far north, told DW that she was forced out of her marital home by 15 heavily armed men, alongside dozens of other women and girls.

"I spent 10 months and 15 days with Boko Haram fighters in the bush. I was later given as the fourth wife to a Boko Haram Muslim," she said.

Habiba, who arrived at Cameroon's Minawao refugee camp with a three-month-old baby, said that there were hundreds of Cameroonian and Nigerian girls in the Boko Haram hideout who were made to do household chores and have sex with the fighters. She told DW that those who became pregnant were handed over to traditional birth attendants.

A military response

General Jacob Kodji, who commands the Cameroonian troops fighting Boko Haram, said that they were handing over the freed hostages to United Nations agencies.

"The government of Cameroon and United Nations agencies have the resources to take care of the health needs of the freed hostages and they are working in collaboration with traditional leaders to bring them together," he said.

In 2013, Nigeria reported that Boko Haram had stepped up its practice of kidnapping young women to sell them into sexual slavery or force them to marry its fighters. The tactics attracted international outrage but efforts to prevent more kidnappings or rescue the girls have not been successful.

The United Nations estimates that Boko Haram's 6-year insurgency has killed more than 20 000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million.

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