THE International Committee Red Cross (ICRC) has said nearly 22,000 Nigerians have been reported as missing during a decade of conflict in Northeast region of Nigeria.
The Geneva based humanitarian institution said the figure is the highest number of missing persons registered with the ICRC in any country.
The ICRC said families in Northeast Nigeria are often separated while fleeing attacks, with others loved ones abducted or detained and do not know their whereabouts.
“Every parent’s worst nightmare is not knowing where their child is. This is the tragic reality for thousands of Nigerian parents, leaving them with the anguish of a constant search. People have the right to know the fate of their loved ones, and more needs to be done to prevent families from being separated in the first place,” said ICRC President Peter Maurer on Thursday at the end of his five-day visit to Nigeria.
“Families are the greatest casualty of 10 years of war in northeast Nigeria. They have been torn apart. Children have been killed and maimed in bomb blasts. Their health facilities have been ruthlessly attacked and their homes and belongings destroyed. Families belong together and above all, civilians must be spared in war” Maurer said.
During the visit, Maurer met with President Muhammadu Buhari and high-level government, civil society and business leaders and spoke with families who have been affected by conflict in Maiduguri and Monguno, many of whom have missing relatives.
The ICRC works with the Nigeria Red Cross and other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in the region to trace missing people by showing photographs, calling out names, and going door-to-door in camps and communities.
Boko Haram— a jihadist group which seek to established an Islamic State across the country, in 2009, led an insurgency that started in the Northeast Nigeria State of Borno.
The group has also been joined in its quest for an Islamic State in Nigeria by the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP), a group headed by the so-called Caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The humanitarian organisation noted that, millions have been displaced with thousands of death recorded affecting both economic and social activities in the area in the decade old conflict.
According to the ICRC, nearly 60 per cent were minors at the time they went missing, meaning thousands of parents don’t know where their children are and if they are alive or dead.
It is also disclosed that 367 cases have been solved by the ICRC since it received it first cases in 2013.
This, it said underscored the immense challenges that come with finding missing people and reconnecting them with their families in Nigeria.
Large swathes of the northeast of the country remain completely inaccessible to humanitarian organisations. People have also been displaced by fighting many times, making them harder to find, it said.
“So far, 367 cases have been solved since ICRC received its first cases in 2013, underscoring the immense challenges that come with finding missing people and reconnecting them with their families in Nigeria. Large swathes of the northeast of the country remain completely inaccessible to humanitarian organisations. People have also been displaced by fighting many times, making them harder to find.”
“What troubles me is that I haven’t heard whether he is dead or alive. I just don’t know. Whenever I cook food for his siblings, I think about him. For the three years that we stayed in Maiduguri, my husband was very distressed and would repeatedly have nightmares. He would call the name of our abducted son, ‘Alkali, Alkali, Alkali’ all the time”, Falmata Amodu, the mother of a boy who went missing in 2013 at age 10 while fleeing an attack, was quoted.
Two million people, according to the ICRC are estimated to be displaced from their homes in Northeast Nigeria.
“In Monguno, internally displaced Nigerians outnumber residents nearly two to one. Health care is also a major concern, as health workers and medical facilities continue to come under fire.” it said.
The humanitarian institution further condemned the killing of its captured ICRC health workers by Boko Haram.
“Nearly a year ago, two ICRC health workers, Hawa Mohammed Liman and Saifura Hussaini Ahmed Khorsa, were deliberately killed after they were abducted from a clinic in Rann in Borno State. These attacks on health care are not only a violation of international humanitarian law, but also an assault on people’s basic right to receive health care.”