21 June 2018

Nigeria: Sparing a Thought for Harsh Realities of Refugees, IDPs

Photo: This Day
Nigerian refugees.

Yesterday, June 20, was the World Refugee Day, a day set aside by the United Nations (UN) to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees worldwide and show support for people who have been displaced by man-made conflicts and natural causes.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2017, 68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations, including over 22 million refugees.

Every single one of those people has their own story.

"Many people have had to flee violence and war in countries like Syria, Iraq or Nigeria, putting themselves through extremely risky situations in order to reach safety," said Douglas Graf von Saurma-Jeltsch, president of Malteser International Europe.

In the world today, there are few places that can be as vibrant as creative and colourful or as full of energy and youthful enthusiasm as a school.

For children growing up in conflict zones, schools have been the biggest casualty.

Attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities have become part of protracted conflicts, and the long-term effects on education are disastrous for the future generations.

And there have been one too many attacks on schools since the Boko Haram insurgency began.

Today, it is 1,529 days, clearly over four years since the Chibok schoolgirls were abducted. On the night of April 14, 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. Of the number, 112 girls are still missing.

Earlier in the year, 110 students of Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, in Yobe State were abducted by the dreaded sect. Barely a month later, 104 of the girls were released and return to Dapchi, five died in custody and a lone girl, 15-year-old Leah Sharibu, was detained for failure to renounce her Christian faith and embrace Islam.

Where we fail to protect children in education from conflict, we pass an unthinkable decision onto their parents.

In effect, we ask them to decide whether to send their children to school and give them the transformative gift of education, even when there is a risk of them being caught up in violence, being sexually assaulted or never coming home at all. No parent should be asked to make such a decision.

A report published last month by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Education Under Attack, reveals that there have been 2,700 attacks on education between 2013-2017, harming more than 21,000 students and educators.

Children who are displaced by war are amongst the most vulnerable. Reason the world must unite to ensure as a matter of urgency that the right to education for the world's most marginalised children, including refugees, is safeguarded in international law.

The report noted that education is a powerful weapon against poverty, radicalisation and conflict. "This means that when the weapons of war turn towards education with their destructive power, lamentable cycles of violence are doomed to persist.

Violent attacks increase student drop-out rates and school closures; access to education is curtailed and student retention is made even more difficult."

According to Education Under Attack, conflict in Syria, for example, has destroyed the national education system and three million children had already stopped attending school on a regular basis by 2015; three years later, that number is bound to be significantly higher.

In February 2018, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said 1,400 schools have been destroyed in Borno State as a result of nine years of Boko Haram insurgency in the state.

UNICEF stated this in its 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Northeast - Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. It added that more than 400 health facilities remained functional across the state.

"Only half of the 755 health facilities in Borno remain functional and nearly 1,400 schools have been damaged or destroyed.

Many of these schools are unable to reopen for safety reasons. Over one million children are currently out of school.

The protracted crisis has also compromised the physical safety and psychosocial well-being of 2.5 million children in north-east Nigeria, who require immediate assistance."

The UN agency said violence and conflict-related displacement had increased dramatically in Nigeria over the past decade.

"In the three most directly affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, 7.7 million people require humanitarian assistance.

This includes 4.3 million children and 1.6 million internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are children.

"An estimated 400,000 children in 14 local government areas in Borno will be severely malnourished in 2018.

Five local government areas in Yobe are experiencing global acute malnutrition rates of 10 to 20 per cent.

An estimated 1.5 million people lack access to safe water - 940,000 in Borno, 480,000 in Adamawa and 80,000 in Yobe.

As a result, vulnerable children are becoming acutely malnourished after repeated bouts of diarrheal disease," the UN children's agency said.

Because existing social vulnerabilities and patterns of exclusion are only intensified by conflict, it's the most vulnerable children who miss out on education first.

Female students suffer intensely in conflict settings, and are often the target of sexual assault by armed groups when they are at school or on the way to school.

There are also other few quick facts about refugees: The world's largest refugee camp is located in Dadaab, Kenya, which is home to more than 329,000 people.

On average, 42,500 people per day flee their homes to seek protection within the borders of their own country or other countries.

Of the 20 million refugees worldwide, 51 per cent are under the age of 18.

The civil war in Syria has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises of our lives with more than 11 million currently displaced.

This number amounts to 45 per cent of the Syrian population; while 86 per cent of the world's refugees are hosted by developing countries.

This is besides the migration crisis experienced across many parts of the world, especially Europe, headlined by arrest, rejection and death. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 3,116 Mediterranean deaths were recorded alongside 171,635 migrants and refugees entry to Europe by the sea in 2017.

Migrants who embark on irregular journeys are often vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation, abuse and sometimes, death.

Many of such migrants are victims of human smuggling, trafficking, prostitution, rape and a vast array of inhuman treatments, which constitute a grave violation of their fundamental human rights.

For many Africans, especially, Nigerians who embark on an undocumented travel to Europe, the story is often gory and filled with utmost ignorance, greed, hopelessness and helplessness.

Many are rendered unproductive and lifeless either in Niger Republic, the Sahara Desert, Libya or Mediterranean sea or in the narrow instance of a return to Nigeria.

Nearer home, the Country Representative of UNHCR in Nigeria, Jose Antonio-Canhandula, said there had been an influx of over 20,000 refugees into Nigeria within the last one year. Antonio-Canhandula made this known on Tuesday in Abuja at a news conference to commemorate the 2018 World Refugees Day.

He said that on assuming duty as UNHCR's Country Rep., there were only about 2,000 refugees in the country but presently, there were 22,000 to 23,000 refugees in Nigeria.

The country representative explained that the increasing numbers of refugees into Nigeria was as a result of the influx of refugees from Cameroon due to the political instability in their country.

Antonio-Canhandula called on world leaders to come together to reflect on solutions that would put an end to the menace.

"What I will like to say in relation to refugees is that in Nigeria, when I came; there were probably less than 2,000 refugees.

Today, one year later, we are talking of about 22,000 to 23,000 refugees.

"There is a new phenomenon of influx of refugees from Cameroon and I must thank the government through the Federal Commissioner on the way they are responding humanely to the needs of these refugees, but the refugees should not be a situation that should go on forever.

"At one point, it has to end, people need to get back to their countries, to their families or they need in any case a solution that gets them out of this mentality and situation of refugees.

We have a refugee situation that requires that we reflect on what solutions do we offer to these human beings like you and I, that is the objective of the celebration of World Refugee Day."

Antonio-Canhandula said that it was also important to talk about Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and migrants as they were also in the same condition of needs like the refugees.

Mrs. Halima Ahmed, Commissioner for Finance, ECOWAS Commission, said the International Day of Refugees was set aside to celebrate refugees for their courage, strength and determination.

She said Nigeria had a total of 1.7 million displaced persons due to conflict and natural disasters at the end of 2017 with the total of 1.9 million displaced persons in all the member states of West Africa due to conflict and 300,000 to natural disasters.

"Almost half of the new displacement is associated with conflicts and violence, which took place in Sub-Sahara, they were 5.5 million in 2017, which double the figure for the previous years.

Disaster also triggered significant displacement in the region forcing almost 2.6 million to flee their homes."

Speaking, Sadiya Farouk of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) said 2018 had been characterised by influx of Cameroonian refugees fleeing into the country.

She said that 22,000 refugees had been registered so far with the commission, stating that UNHCR and other partners were still registering.

According to her, 1.7 million Nigerians are internally displaced by the insurgency in the Northeast as well as 200,000 Nigeria nationals living as refugees in neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

"We will be given them support, especially the Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, our core mandate is to give them protection and assistance since we had the influx.

We have registered them and taking relief materials to them. We have asked the government of Benue and Cross River to give us a location where we can keep the refugees because of the terrain.

"They are all scattered and they have given us the location and very soon we will move there and raise the structure.

Our message is a message of hope, the government of Nigeria is here to give them support and assistance, and to have a fruitful discussions with the government of Cameroon so that the crisis that led to them fleeing will stop," Farouk said.

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