UNHCR pledges aid to thousands displaced in Lake Chad Basin
ABUJA, Nigeria – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrapped up a 10-day visit to Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria restating UNHCR’s strong commitment to continue helping hundreds of thousands of people forcibly displaced in the region by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Grandi, who flew out of Nigeria late on Monday after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, highlighted the main challenges ahead for the international community and governments in the region: security, humanitarian response, development and the rights and protection of civilians.
“We will need to win the battle of development if we want to win the war on radicalism. Poverty, under-development, and lack of education all breed insecurity,” Grandi said. “We need to tackle these important development challenges in the whole region.”
“We will need to win the battle of development if we want to win the war on radicalism."
On Sunday, Grandi travelled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in north-east Nigeria, where he visited Bakassi, one of 12 camps run by the government with help from aid agencies. “We need to have more sustainable activities,” a farmer told Grandi in a meeting with camp leaders. “We of course appreciate the assistance in the camp, but we have become dependent on aid and we need something to make a living,” he added.
The farmer and other participants spoke of the additional challenges they face, including the need for more food, water points and latrines. The camp hosts over 21,000 internally displaced people who fled violence in the region.
Grandi visited a UNHCR-supported centre at the camp which helps women develop livelihoods such as tailoring and leatherwork. UNHCR has also helped develop a workshop to train mechanics in Maiduguri, and centres in Borno and Yola States to help displaced people learn and apply new skills.
He pledged to continue UNHCR’s support with humanitarian assistance and to encourage the longer-term development interventions needed to improve people’s lives. “I am here to express the solidarity of the world. We will continue to help the government provide material assistance,” said Grandi, while adding: “Your future cannot be in a camp, your future is at home, in your villages and towns.”
Grandi said significant and large scale intervention and development activities were also needed throughout the affected region. “I am appealing to donors to urgently fund both the humanitarian response to help people in need today and invest in their futures,” he said. “We also need the involvement and expertise of the financial institutions, specifically the World Bank, the Africa Development Bank, and the big bilateral institutions.”
Grandi also listened to people who had been captured and abused by Boko Haram, including 26-year-old Nancy,* who was repeatedly raped over two years of captivity. She became pregnant but had a miscarriage because of the torture inflicted on her. Nancy subsequently escaped and now has an 11-month-old baby, a daily reminder of her ordeal. She has been reunited with her husband but carries deep scars.
“Your future cannot be in a camp, your future is at home, in your villages and towns.”
The High Commissioner also met a 13-year-old boy who was seized by Boko Haram and his father killed. The boy escaped and spent 28 days in the bush, foraging for food before being rescued by the military. He is now living with his mother at the camp.
The High Commissioner began his visit in Niger on December 10 to spread awareness about the desperate situation in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in one of Africa’s gravest displacement crises.
He also used the visit to appeal to the international community to step up its response and do more to help governments in all four countries cope with the burden. Last Friday, in Cameroon, he launched a $US241 million appeal on behalf of 36 partners to help some 460,000 affected people in Niger, Chad and Cameroon, including 183,000 Nigerian refugees.
While visiting Niger, where he met President Issoufou Mahamdoui and other top officials, Grandi praised one of the world’s poorest countries for keeping its doors open, granting asylum as well as sharing scarce resources. “This is really exceptional … I assure you, I will use the example of Niger around the world,” he said.
The High Commissioner also visited the troubled region of Diffa, which has been subjected to Boko Haram attacks for almost two years. It hosts a displaced population of over 240,000, including Nigerian refugees and local communities.
“It is essential not just to focus on the present crisis – but to look to the future, and to the need for development,” he said, citing UNHCR programmes on urbanization and on domestic energy in Diffa.
In Chad’s Lac Region, he visited another UNHCR-funded project, which provides refugees and locals the means to fish in nearby Lake Chad. He cited it as an example for donors of how livelihoods can help people live as normal a life as possible. More funding could help many more people become self-sufficient and stimulate the battered economy.
In N’Djamena he met President Idriss Deby and hailed the country for providing shelter to refugees from Nigeria, Sudan and Central African Republic. He also discussed development projects aimed at helping refugees and host communities with the World Bank and Africa Development Bank representatives in Chad.
*Name changed for protection reasons.