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Eighty-six percent of the 1.8 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North East are not ready to return home, a new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reveals.
The council said findings contained in the report are indisputable, adding that movements of people to their communities “must be voluntary, safe and informed.”
Jan Egeland, NRC Secretary General, who is currently in Nigeria, said coercing the displaced persons to return home is a deadly recipe that could worsen the conflict.
“When 86 per cent of people tell us they aren’t ready to go home yet, we must listen. This cannot fall on deaf ears,” he said.
“People must decide to return of their own free will. Coercing communities to move home is a deadly recipe set to worsen the conflict.”
The report, titled ‘too scared to return’, comes at a time when about a dozen persons from Bama Local Government Area, one of the largest communities displaced by Boko Haram, are being held in prison custody as they face trial for leading IDPs to stage a street protest asking government to allow them return home.
The NRC said it talked to 27,000 IDPs in the research which it said was one of “the largest pieces of research carried out on the displaced population”.
“60 per cent of people who are unwilling to return home in the immediate future cite insecurity as the main reason for staying put. Attacks against civilians are on the rise, and communities feel scared,” Egeland said
“The Nigerian military recently gained ground in the fight against the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. In response, the armed group has stepped up attacks on soft targets, including markets and sites sheltering displaced people,” he added
The report noted that many officials in Nigeria’s government are keen to see communities move back home.
“While the end game is for communities to return home, the unfortunate truth is that pushing people back now will have harmful consequences,” said Egeland.
“An overwhelming 85 per cent of people living in formal camps tell us they feel safer there than where they were before, despite the deplorable attacks on camps.
“Today I met a woman in Monguno town who fled her village two years ago after Boko Haram set it ablaze. She’s eager to bring her six children home, but she told me it’s too soon, that the armed group are still present.”
The report based on research largely carried out in September this year also stated that some of the IDPs would still insist on remaining in the city even if the Boko Haram insurgents are totally wiped out.
“Even if the security situation improves, half the displaced people interviewed say their houses were destroyed in the conflict,” the report said.
“About 48 per cent of people interviewed do not have information about the current state of their homes, indicating that this figure could be much higher,” added Egeland.
The report recommends measures needed before Nigeria’s displaced can return home.
“Firstly, the overall security situation must improve so communities feel safe. In addition, resources must be channeled into rebuilding homes and re-establishing livelihoods. It is important that displaced communities are involved in developing these programmes.
“People need a roof over their heads and the prospect of making a living, if they are to have any chance of rebuilding their lives,” he said.
“We are ready to work with the government to help displaced Nigerian’s return home. But movements must be voluntary, safe and informed.”
The Boko Haram insurgency, according to a recent situation report by the NRC, has left “8.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Nigeria”.
About 80 per cent of the internally displaced are in Borno State, with over half living outside of camps in local communities.
Some 220,000 people have fled to Cameroon, Niger and Chad, while 5.2 million people are food insecure in northeast Nigeria.
An estimated 450,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition; while 20,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict 8 years ago. Over 4,100 cases of suspected cholera and 56 deaths have been reported”.
The report says at least 57 per cent of schools in Borno State are still closed due to conflict.
The challenges of managing the humanitarian conflict are still enormous because the $1 billion 2017 global aid appeal for Nigeria is only funded by 64 per cent.
The ‘Too Scared to Return’ report was written in collaboration with the REACH Initiative, the Danish Refugee Council and the protection sector in Nigeria.
The NRC says it has provided aid to tens of thousands of Nigerians since the start of the year.
“This includes food, water and sanitation to 40,000 people, shelter for 20,000 people and legal assistance to 18,000 people,”Egeland said