About 35,000 Nigerians have fled their homes in recent days following a surge in Boko Haram attacks in the country’s troubled northeast Borno State, the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) reported Monday.
Since the Islamic State-allied Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes within the Lake Chad Basin as the militant group has unleashed waves of atrocities on civilians there.
Many of those fleeing the recent surge in attacks have crossed the border into neighboring Cameroon, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“We came with nothing,” Mariam Adoum, a pregnant Nigerian mother who dropped everything a fled when Boko Haram militants stormed into her hometown of Rann, told UNHCR.
Four days after her arrival in a desert town across the border, Adoum gave birth in a tent in a makeshift camp, and now faces the daunting uncertainty of how she will care for her baby as a refugee.
“It’s so difficult to have a child here. I’m scared,” she said. “We need milk and proper shelter. My baby will grow up here. We don’t have a choice.”
The latest attack on Rann came after the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) – comprised of soldiers from Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Benin – withdrew from the area, leaving residents vulnerable to insurgents.
“We could hear gunshots behind us,” said Fanne Gambo, an elderly resident described the horror of the assault in an interview with UNHCR.
“I did not really see what was happening, I only saw corpses lying here and there, people being killed.”
Despite the MNJTF’s counterinsurgency efforts in the region, the lack of security remains a serious problem.
One Nigerian woman, Blama Tchama, told UNHCR that she has fled into Cameroon on seven different occasions, only to be sent back each time.
“This time around, we are here to stay,” she said. “There is no security where we are coming from.”
Bad news for Boko Haram.
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Mother-of-four Amma Zarama Hamat also feels that she will never be safe in Nigeria. After being uprooted from her home eight years ago, she’s struggled to find safety anywhere while wandering the region, tragically losing her first-born son in a Boko Haram attack in 2017.
“They regularly come to take everything we have. They take our food, they take everything we own and leave,” she said. “I can’t ever go back there. I barely escaped with my life … I will die here in Cameroon.”
With tens of thousands of people now stranded in desert camps across the Cameroon border, UNHCR and other NGOs face the daunting challenge of helping them meet basic needs.
“In this remote and desert environment, the needs are tremendously great in number,” Geert Van de Casteele, the assistant representative in Cameroon for UNHCR, said.
“It is about providing healthcare, food, water and medical assistance and to rapidly find resources with which to construct temporary shelter in a region characterized by particularly rough climate conditions.”
Along with the U.N. Development Program and other partners, UNHCR has launched an appeal for $135 million to help those displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
More on the Subject
In October, Boko Haram jihadists killed a kidnapped female Red Cross worker in northeast Nigeria in a “despicable act of cruelty,” the agency, a month after militants murdered one of her colleagues.
Three female health workers were kidnapped on March 1 during a Boko Haram raid on the remote town of Rann in Borno state that killed three other aid workers and eight Nigerian soldiers.
Two of the kidnapped women, Hauwa Liman and Saifura Khorsa, worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), while the third, Alice Loksha, worked for the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.