In Nigeria, an accompaniment program helps relatives of missing people

A major impact of the 12-year old armed conflict in north-east Nigeria is the record number of missing people. The numbers currently stand at over 24,000 missing persons, representing half the total number of missing persons registered by the ICRC in the whole of Africa. This figure is only the tip of the iceberg and the full scale of the humanitarian fallout in Nigeria remains largely unknown.

Working with the Nigerian Red Cross Society, we offer the Restoring Family Links service which tracks down missing persons separated from their families, particularly children, and reunites them with their loved ones. Alongside our search efforts, we run an accompaniment program in Yola which allows trained volunteers from affected communities accompany and provide psychosocial, economic, protection, legal and administrative support to hundreds of families of missing persons to help them cope with their suffering.

Based on the concept of mutual support, the accompaniers are drawn from a select number of families of the missing from each community. The program is currently carried out across four communities of the north-east, each with a significant population of internally displaced persons. It creates networks that provide coping mechanisms and a voice for the families within their communities.

The program includes support group sessions we run jointly with accompaniers to address the various needs for the families. It also runs in cycles of approximately three months, with economic support provided to those who need it the most. For some, it is helping them restart their sources of livelihood or facilitating new businesses if the missing person was the breadwinner of the family. However, assistance from us is only a small part of the bigger picture, and alone, is not enough.

The accompaniment program has impacted over 200 people in Yola so far, helping to improve the mental health of participants by reducing levels of distress, depression, anxiety, and stress. It has increased participants' knowledge on their safety, rights, and access to services, empowering them to act for themselves and their families. Participants have also told us that the program has strengthened bonds between families of the missing, broken down barriers on a wider social level, and helped identify issues that families of the missing face within communities.

Through the accompaniers, we remain closely involved with families of the missing during and after the program ends. The journey is long and there is still a lot more that can be done.