2018 will mark the fifth year of the Nigerian refugee crisis with 218,000 Nigerian refugees expected to be living in and outside of camps with host communities in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The overall Nigerian refugee population size has fluctuated in 2017, with new arrivals, departures to Nigeria and pendular movements between countries of asylum and Nigeria, owing to the prevailing insecurity and sub-standard living conditions in the country of origin.
In 2017, security conditions improved marginally only in Niger, with less frequent Boko Haram incursions inland, while violent and deadly attacks continued in all three hosting countries, mainly in border areas. As a result, counter-insurgency operations by national military forces and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) carried on, contributing to displacement. In those areas where the security situation improved, humanitarian access did as well. In this context, RRRP partner presence increased and a greater number of interventions were carried out.
Security measures such as restrictions on the freedom of movement of refugees significantly affected their livelihoods and self-reliance potential. In some areas, farmers have not been able to engage in agricultural activities and had to abandon fertile areas, while most refugees’ access to land is limited anyway; herders face impediments to find pastures, most of the Lake Chad is banned for fishermen and traders cannot move their goods, especially not cross-border. The Boko Haram conflict therefore not only affects refugees, but also further deteriorated the living conditions and increased the poverty rate of host populations. The absorption capacity of most host villages, including their infrastructure for basic services, is stretched to the limit, increasing the need for humanitarian assistance and interventions by development actors, especially in the health and WASH sectors. In 2017, the Diffa region in Niger witnessed for the first time the outbreak of a Hepatitis E epidemic. Such additional humanitarian emergencies need to be prevented to avoid further deteriorating the living conditions of the displaced populations and their hosts.
In 2018, RRRP partners will focus on interventions aimed at implementing durable solutions, while continuing to support and ensure access to asylum and protection for persons fleeing the conflict. The Tripartite Agreement signed on 2 March 2017 between Nigeria, Cameroon and UNHCR on voluntary repatriation constitutes a key step in that direction, and provides the framework for the safe, dignified and voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of Nigerian refugees living in Cameroon once conditions are conducive in areas of origin. Given that the security situation remains precarious and that access to basic services is severely limited in many areas of Borno State, where most Nigerian refugees come from, these parts of Nigeria are not yet conducive to return. Therefore, RRRP partners will continue providing humanitarian assistance throughout 2018 and in parallel, will implement interventions that support the local integration of those refugees who want to stay.