12 May 2017

Nigeria: Chibok Girls Free but Can't Return Home

The 82 Chibok girls who were released by terror group Boko Haram last week are still not allowed to see their parents. Even the students who were released in October last year haven't been able to meet their families.

It was one of the happiest days in the life of Lawal Emos: Last year, on October 16, he could finally embrace his daughter Comfort again. She had been held captive by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram for two and a half years.

Comfort and 20 other girls had been released after negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram.

When Emos was reunited with his daughter , he cried tears of joy. He couldn't believe how lucky he'd been.

"She's feeling better now," he told DW back then. "She is very grateful and happy that it's over," he added.

He said Comfort wants to continue her education and return to school.

'Another from of captivity'

But Emos doesn't know whether she's taken up school again. That time, back in October, was the last time he's seen his daughter.

Emos returned to Chibok, and Comfort had to stay in Nigeria's capital Abuja, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) away from her home. Six months later, the government still hasn't made good on the promise she would be allowed to live with her parents soon.

Emos wasn't even able to see his daughter over the Christmas holidays.

"They are saying these girls are still vulnerable to Boko Haram attacks, they can easily be located by the terrorists, and they don't want them to give [out] any information that could be detrimental to the rescue of the remaining girls," he said.

"But what we are saying is that we should have access to our daughter - don't just keep them in another form of captivity."

The 82 Chibok girls who were released last Saturday are now also in Abuja. They receive medical care in a hospital run by Nigeria's intelligence.

Since coming to the capital, they've also met many people such as Nigeria's president Buhari, several ministers, the governor of Borno state, senators and members of parliament, a Chibok district head. But they haven't been allowed to see their parents. According to local media reports, only one father managed to talk to his daughter on the phone.

Girls not held against their will?

The government's reasons for that delay is to make sure to invite the real parents of the girls to come to Abuja, a spokesperson for the president told DW's Nigerian partner station Channels TV.

"The government would not stop any parent from immediately establishing contact to their own daughters, certainly it would be facilitated," said spokesperson Garba Shehu.

Women affairs minister Aisha Alhassan told journalists the girls are not held against their will in Abuja.

At least one of the girls was currently visiting her parents, she said, adding the girls were expected to return to school in September.

Aisha Yesufu of the "BringBackOurGirls campaign criticizes the lack of information. No one apart from the Nigerian government knows how the girls are doing and what's going to happen to them next.

"If they don't have access to their parents, if their families can't have access to them, it's more or less as if they are in a kind of captivity," she said.

"That's quite worrisome, because they should be able to have access. Even if they are sheltered from the rest of society for security [reasons], they should be able to have access to their children. That's very important for the children to know they truly have been rescued."

'Very disturbing'

She also knows of cases where relatives of the girls who were released last October have not been able to speak to them in person or over the phone.

"The girls released in October last year are still in government custody which is very disturbing", said Isa Sanusi, spokesperson of Amnesty International in Nigeria.

"Whatever the government wants to do for the girls, it will not be as important as fetching them back to their families, back to their communities, back to their relatives where they can return to a normal life," he added.

Meanwhile, Emos hopes someone will soon reach out to him and invite him to Abuja. He would like to celebrate with all the other parents of the recently released girls - and finally see his daughter Comfort again.

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