According to a report released today by Human Rights Watch, the government of Borno State in Nigeria’s decision to close its camps for those displaced by the Boko Haram conflict has worsened the suffering and impoverishment of over 200,000 people. The removal of those people has violated their rights to housing, food, and livelihoods because the government has not offered them suitable alternatives. The 59-page paper, titled “‘Those Who Returned Are Suffering’: Impact of Camp Shutdowns on People Displaced by the Boko Haram Conflict in Nigeria,” details how the closures have affected the food assistance provided to internally displaced people and forced many to leave the camps.
To protect their safety and wellbeing, the authorities have not offered sufficient information or viable alternatives. As a result, many who have been relocated are finding it difficult to meet their most basic needs, such as finding food and a place to live. Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, claimed that the Borno State government is harming hundreds of thousands of displaced people who are already living in precarious conditions in order to further a dubious government development agenda to wean people off humanitarian aid. The government is aggravating the misery of and increasing the vulnerability of its citizens by evicting them from camps without offering them viable alternatives for help.
Authorities compelled over 140,000 people to evacuate.
Authorities in Borno State forced more than 140,000 people to leave eight camps in the state’s capital, Maiduguri, between May 2021 and August 2022. Two further camps, Muna Badawi and 400 Housing Estate (Gubio) Camp, which together housed roughly 74,000 people, are also scheduled to close this year. Human Rights Watch interviewed 22 internally displaced persons between April and September 2022, including 8 in either the Dalori or Gubio camps and 14 who had fled the Bakassi camp, which was closed in November 2021.
Those who left the Bakassi camp looked for refuge in Maiduguri or in their hometown of Bama. Human Rights Watch also spoke with camp supervisors, representatives of foreign aid organizations, and United Nations staff members in charge of organizing aid in Borno State. After Borno State Governor Babagana Umaru Zulum declared in October 2021 that all camps in Maiduguri will close by December 2021, food assistance to the camps quickly came to an end. Even though a few stayed open after that time, organizations like the UN World Food Program were unable to offer assistance because its 2022 plans could not be scaled up because of the planned closures and budget shortages.
The BSEMA provided some food, but it was never enough.
Despite limited ad hoc food distribution offered by the Borno State Emergency Management Authority, supplies have been infrequent and insufficient to meet needs. Many folks admitted that they had to skip meals or go for days without any filling or healthy food. In the camp in Maiduguri, a 29-year-old father of four said, they could eat protein, such as fish, but in Bama, they couldn’t afford that kind of food. His kids aren’t as healthy as they should be. Now, they are weak and fragile. In order to survive, many children have turned to beg on the streets, despite the risks of sexual assault, trafficking, kidnapping, and auto accidents.
Additionally, many affected by camp closures live in less favourable conditions than they did in the camps. Many people had previously resided in the camps in single rooms of houses constructed on the grounds before they were used as camp sites or in tarpaulin tents set up by humanitarian organizations. Human Rights Watch observed poor-quality buildings outside the camps that offered little protection from the weather. The improvised thatch cottages in Maiduguri and Bama relied on pit latrines that were separate from their residences because they had no access to sanitation amenities. Authorities in Borno State claim to have repaired homes that had been damaged during the fight with Boko Haram in areas where they had urged displaced families to return, like Bama. However, many who went back there claimed that their homes had not been repaired.
Human Rights Watch urged the UN to respond more actively and effectively.
The authorities added that the closures of the camps were required as part of their development program in order to keep people out of humanitarian aid and help them strengthen their resilience so they could help the state flourish. Instead of waiting for a worse situation to develop, Human Rights Watch encouraged the UN, particularly its officials in Nigeria, to act more quickly and decisively to protect and lessen the suffering done to displaced people in Borno State. Authorities in Borno State should postpone closing the remaining camps until sufficient planning and sincere talks with the camp residents and other important parties are made.