Boko Haram Attacks Cause Humanitarian Crisis

from Human Rights Watch
Published on 14 Mar 2014

Regional Governments, Agencies Should Protect Rights of the Displaced

(Abuja, March 14, 2014) – Attacks since the beginning of 2014 by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group, in over 40 villages in northeastern Nigeria, have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, Human Rights Watch said today. People forced to flee their homes are dispersed throughout Nigeria and in neighboring countries, where they face serious problems in accessing food, water, shelter, and other basic rights.

Nigeria and its neighbors – particularly Cameroon, Chad, and Niger – should work together to assess the needs of the displaced and ensure the provision of adequate humanitarian assistance.

“The horrific attacks by Boko Haram are having a devastating impact on northern Nigerians,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Hundreds of thousands have fled to other parts of Nigeria and neighboring countries, and their rights should be protected.”

Nearly 300,000 people in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states – 70 percent of them women and children – have fled their homes since early 2012, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA). The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) puts the figure of internally displaced people in Nigeria at more than 470,000. Most are staying with families in other parts of Nigeria, and another 60,000 or so have sought refuge in neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger since May 2013, according to UNHCR.

Boko Haram attacks have increased during the first two months of 2014, with almost daily killings, bombings, thefts, and the destruction of schools, homes, and businesses in northeastern Nigerian villages. These assaults have led to the deaths of 700 people, the abduction of at least 25 women and girls, and the mass displacement of residents. The Nigerian government should immediately investigate the killings and step up efforts to rescue people who have been abducted, while ensuring civilian protection, and safeguard the rights of the displaced.

UNHCR, working with nongovernmental groups, has registered about 3,000 people in its Cameroon Minawao camp, and provided them with educational, sanitation, health, and nutrition services. Up to another 10,000 people, however, are staying in villages in Cameroon’s arid Far North Region. UNHCR also reports that most of the 40,000 Nigerian refugees in Niger’s Diffa region are residing with local families, while others live out in the open with limited food and water resources. The Niger authorities have granted them “temporary refugee status,” but have stopped short of setting up camps for fear that these will become targets of Boko Haram attacks.

Under the African Union’s Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, which Nigeria has ratified, African countries are obligated by article 9(2) (b) to protect internally displaced people to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay. The countries are also obligated to provide adequate humanitarian assistance, including food, water, shelter, medical care and other health services, sanitation, education, and any other necessary social services, and where appropriate, to extend assistance to local and host communities. In keeping with this standard, the Nigerian government should immediately assess the needs of internally displaced people and host communities, and take steps to organize relief activities, in cooperation with nongovernmental organizations and international agencies.

The federal government should also, if it has not done so, designate an authority or body to coordinate activities to protect and assist internally displaced people. The federal government should assign responsibilities to appropriate agencies for protection and assistance, and for cooperating with relevant international organizations or agencies, and nongovernmental groups, in accordance with article 3(2) (b) of the convention.

Nigeria’s neighbors should leave their borders open for those fleeing the violence. The countries affected should also request assistance if their capacity to receive and support the increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons is not sufficient.

Human Rights Watch has documented in several reports and news releases that Boko Haram attacks since 2009 have killed thousands of people and that the government in its response to the violence has carried out arbitrary mass arrests. The government has detained without trial scores of young men and boys, many of whom have forcibly disappeared.

In a 2012 report, “Spiraling Violence,” Human Rights Watch analyzed the pattern and scope of the violence that has engulfed communities in northeast and central Nigeria.

“Boko Haram attacks require an effective and coordinated humanitarian response,” Bekele said. “Even if the government cannot stop the attacks, at the very least, it can meaningfully assist the people who have been most devastated by them.”

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