UNHCR: Military advances in northeast Nigeria uncovering vast and urgent humanitarian needs
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is increasingly alarmed at the unfolding situation in northeast Nigeria, where the advancing military campaign by Government forces, in cooperation with the Multi-National Joint Task Force against Boko Haram, has in recent weeks been exposing catastrophic levels of suffering among the population of the area, many of whom have been out of reach of humanitarian help over months or years.
At present, and with the military campaign still in progress, the situation is shifting and remains dangerous and volatile. There have been frequent hit-and-run incidents by militants, including suicide bombings, attacks on civilians, torching of homes and thefts of livestock. On 27 July a UN convoy was attacked with an improvised explosive device and gunfire, resulting in injuries to three humanitarians as well as members of the military escort. The level of peril and difficulty in delivering life-saving help is high – as, by consequence, are the costs.
While many areas are still beyond reach, in Borno and Yobe States the picture of suffering is shocking. There are numerous reports of human rights violations, including deaths, sexual violence, disappearances, forced recruitment, forced religious conversions and attacks on civilian sites. Some 800,000 additional internally displaced people have been identified as needing help. Severe malnutrition on a wide scale is being reported, and the needs are growing with each day. In Borno State 51,474 people are on our critically vulnerable list, 21,912 of these being children – more than three quarters of whom have lost one or both parents.
An additional displacement complication has arisen from the knock-on effect of the military activity and the resulting further spread of insecurity to the north and west across the borders and into parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, where the violent attacks against military personnel in Bosso town, Diffa, on 3 June, resulted in the worst displacement there since the beginning of the crisis in 2013. Amid this, some 106,000 Nigerian refugees have been pressed back into Borno (67,000), Adamawa (22,000) and Yobe (17,000) states, becoming new internally displaced people in the process and also needing reception, registration and other protection help, plus shelter, psycho-social support and material assistance.
UNHCR is responding by scaling its operations up. The immediate focus is the needs of some 488,000 highly vulnerable people in critical condition and now concentrated in 10 newly liberated Local Government Areas in Borno State, plus the needs of the returned refugees.
UNHCR teams, together with other UN agencies, the Nigerian Government and NGO partners, took advantage of a narrow and recently opened corridor to coordinate rapid joint needs and protection assessments in Damboa (about 70km southwest of Maiduguri), Dikwa (west of Maiduguri and about 40km from the Cameroon border) and several other areas in May and June. More recently, we have been able to assess humanitarian needs in Bama, the largest city in Borno after the capital, Maiduguri, with a pre-insurgency population of 350,000. There are no civil administration or police services in these areas as of yet, although there have been slight and gradual changes since the aftermath of the UN convoy attack. Most inhabitants have fled, homes and infrastructure are battered and meanwhile counter-insurgency operations are continuing. Many of the displaced are women, children, the elderly and others with urgent needs. We have seen adults so exhausted they are unable to move, and children with swollen faces and hollow eyes and other clear indications of acute malnutrition. Many also show signs of severe trauma. People complain about a lack of food and water (shortages of diesel fuel in the area mean pumping water is difficult). New displaced people arrive daily.
Beyond these areas, access in others remains impossible without military escort, and is for periods of only a few hours at a time. There is urgent need for armoured vehicles and military escorts, providing security and protection for UNHCR and humanitarian partners to be able to more effectively reach vulnerable populations. A number of satellite camps for internally displaced people, which at present are being run by the military or local security groups, are below standard and need to come under the management of humanitarian actors with the proper expertise, and to help ensure the civilian character of these sites.
The insurgency in northeast Nigeria has mutated into a vast regional crisis confronting Nigeria and its three Lake Chad Basin neighbours – Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Insecurity has driven more than 187,000 Nigerians across the border, but incursions by Boko Haram into the surrounding countries have generated growing numbers of internally displaced people too. There are 157,000 internally displaced people in Cameroon, 74,800 in Chad and over 127,000 in Niger.
As of the most recent available date there are 2,066,783 internally displaced persons in Nigeria, out of which over 1.8 million have been displaced over the course of the conflict with Boko Haram.
Photos and video from the Nigeria emergency – including material from Cameroon, Chad and Niger as well as northeastern Nigeria – can be downloaded from Refugees Media (registration required).
For more information on this topic, please contact: