Joint International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) Statement for the first “Regional conference on stabilization for Boko Haram-affected areas in the Lake Chad Basin” – 2nd to 4th of November 2017

The undersigned INGOs welcome the organization of the first regional conference on stabilization for the Lake Chad Basin and the involvement of all present actors to find long-term solutions to the current humanitarian, security, political and socioeconomic crisis in the region.

The humanitarian and security situation remains severe. Food security is slowly deteriorating in the four countries and civilians, particularly women, youth, and children, face massive protection risks. If the stabilization process is done at the detriment of the humanitarian operations and human rights, the already fragile humanitarian gains could disappear and the risk to start from scratch would be real.
Working in the area through the implementation of humanitarian and development projects, the undersigned INGOs call for the regional stabilization strategy to include the following elements:

Respond to the humanitarian needs as a priority

Ensure immediate access to livelihoods

Talking about stabilization in a context where most of the conflict-affected persons still do not have access to their livelihoods (fishing, farming, trading, livestock) and are thus highly dependent on humanitarian assistance does not make a lot of sense.

Access to livelihoods remain mostly constrained by the regional government’s security restrictions. Those restrictions have a massive impact on the already fragile communities’ economic life and have frozen inter-regional trade movements of a previously interdependent region. The recent lifting on the ban on the pepper production in the Diffa region is however a positive step forward and could contribute to kick-starting the regional economy, sine qua none condition to stabilization.

Invest in basic social services such as health, water and hygiene and education

The analysis is similar in the Lake Chad Basin countries: a chronic lack of investment in basic social services was worsened by the closing or destruction of health structures and schools. Health, water and hygiene, and education must be prioritized to develop the human capital of the region, so essential to stabilization. The regional strategy must also support the development of local development plans and reinforce community-led structures to support the restoration of responsive state structures.

Consider different needs and different contexts

A single approach cannot be promoted while looking at the different realities and specificities of contexts within each country. Some locations are more suitable for early recovery activities while in other locations, within the same region or country, the security situation is not suited, and immediate humanitarian needs remain large. The response must also adapt to the different needs of the population, considering sex and ages as well as socio-economic categories (farmers, traders, fishermen, pastoralists…).

Putting the protection of civilians at the heart of the stabilization strategy

Protection of civilians must be strengthened and put at the heart of the military strategy of the Lake Chad Basin governments. Alternatives to a solely military approach must be developed and the protection of civilians must be prioritized by the conflict-affected states. An improvement of the civil-military coordination mechanisms could result into better information sharing on protection issues and thus enable state actors to better address them. States must reaffirm their compliance to international human rights treaties and international humanitarian law with a focus on the right to asylum.

Secure safe access to population in need

Entire areas remain inaccessible to humanitarian actors the four states. It is crucial to secure the freedom of movement to enable people to access assistance and basic services. Moreover, blurry lines between humanitarian action and political/military objectives have consequences in terms of perception, acceptance, security of communities and humanitarian workers. This can have an important impact on population’s acceptance and on INGOs’ ability to deliver the much-needed assistance for the population’s survival, dignity and recovery. Every initiative which could potentially impact humanitarian operations, including Quick Impact Projects, should be limited to areas and sectors that will not cause confusion with humanitarian actors and physical separation must be maintained.

Adapt security policies to changing realities in order to decrease dependence on aid

Security policies must be evaluated and adapted to the different security realities on the ground within each state, which are not experiencing the same level of insecurity. Even though in some areas, such as a large part of Borno state, the Eastern part of Diffa region and at the Nigerian border in Northern Cameroon, the security situation is extremely volatile, other conflict-affected areas, such as Western Diffa region or Lake region in Chad, are experiencing lower levels of insecurity and a more stable context, more adapted to the lifting of some security restrictions.

Develop long-term solutions for displaced persons

Even though people are still being displaced from their home, others have been coming back to their countries of origin. However, most of the people returning are still unable to reach their homes, especially in Borno state, highlighting that returning does not always mean that long-term solutions have been found. Affected countries need to develop long-term solutions for displaced persons that encompass the complexity of the regional regular migration dynamics and ensure that returns are safe, dignified, voluntary and informed.

Encourage the implementation of adapted DDR processes

Regional governments must clarify their demobilization and de-radicalization policies as a key way to promote future surrenders from armed groups’ members, including a specific approach for children’s demobilization. A clear and transparent process regarding the fate of the former combatants, their judicial conditions, reinsertion policies and reintegration programs is needed to promote a trusting environment enabling more surrenders and thus promoting stabilization.

Develop a transnational data system

While movements of population are still occurring at a regular rate, including returns, the lack of harmonized registration system between conflict-affected states result in contradictory numbers on transnational movements and worsen the already weak ability of agenciesto understand the affected communities coping strategies in displacement. It is important to develop a transnational data system and secure the information sharing process to better support displacement and stop refoulement cases .

Increase transnational programming based on a common evaluation of needs

A lot is left to do to increase joint and neutral evaluation of humanitarian and development needs of communities. Transnational programs must be developed to better support the needs of communities on the move, including potential returns and stop refoulements, especially between Cameroon and Nigeria. These programs must, for instance, include information sharing for family reunification of unaccompanied children and youth.

Include this strategy in existing national and global initiatives

This strategy must be aligned with national framework and be included in annual and multi-year programming of each country. This will contribute to restore public institutions. Moreover, the strategy must include the ongoing global initiatives (Humanitarian-Development nexus and New Way of Working) to ensure coherence between initiatives.

Undersigned INGOs also wish to underline that humanitarian actors do not have the mandate to replace the state and cannot respond sustainably to structural challenges in the Lake Chad Basin. Affected states must commit to solve the crisis to ensure long-term peace in the region.