The Nigeria/Lake Chad Basin (LCB) crisis received remarkable attention from the international community in the first half of 2017. In February, Norway hosted the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region, co-organized by Nigeria, Germany and the United Nations, to draw attention to one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. Panel discussions on protection, food security and education were at centre stage of the conference and the outline of a comprehensive strategy for protection, return and recovery for north-eastern Nigeria, was presented. The conference highlighted the grave ongoing human rights violations and the abject level of poverty and lack of development to which some 17 million people affected by the Boko Haram crisis are exposed. Pledges by donors for 2017-18 surpassed USD 672 million, including USD 458 million for humanitarian response in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger for 2017.
In March, members of the Security Council visited the LCB to collect first-hand impressions of the security, humanitarian and protection situation on the ground. As a result, the Security Council unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 2349 (2017) on the Lake Chad Basin, on 31 March, addressing Boko Haram’s presence in the region for the first time and expressing concern about the protection needs of civilians affected by terrorism, sexual exploitation and abuse, extra-judicial killings and torture. Also in the first trimester, the SecretaryGeneral warned about rising levels of food insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin countries and launched a call for action to avert the risk of famine in north-eastern Nigeria. He urged donors to generously respond to OCHA’s Famine appeal in order to save thousands of lives. All these initiatives have highlighted the need for an urgent political solution to the Boko Haram conflict, as food insecurity is only one of its devastating consequences. As the regional economy continues to deteriorate, the political stability of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, who were hosting over 205,000 Nigerian refugees as of 30 June, is increasingly tested.
Meanwhile, the security situation which had seemed to improve in the first quarter, suddenly deteriorated again, as Boko Haram carried out multiple suicide attacks in all three countries of asylum, kidnapping women and children to use them as human bombs and spreading terror among host populations and refugees. Among the worst was a double suicide attack on 28 June in Kablewa IDP camp in Diffa, Niger, which not only prompted its 16,000 inhabitants to flee towards nearby villages and settlements alongside Route Nationale 1, but also led to the closure of the entire camp. As a result of these serious set-backs and the resurgence of Boko Haram in the LCB, host governments imposed restrictions on access to asylum that led to a series of diplomatic incidents with Cameroon and a further reduction of humanitarian and protection space in the region. To date, the security situation in the LCB remains volatile and population movements are reported on a daily basis across the region.
Thousands of Nigerian refugees hosted in border areas returned home to check on prevailing security and living conditions in newly accessible Local Government Areas (LGAs). Most ended up in secondary displacement, needing humanitarian assistance. In May, humanitarian partners in Banki, Nigeria, faced a humanitarian emergency as refugee returnees from Cameroon arrived in such large numbers that Banki IDP camp grew from a population of 20,000 people to over 45,000 over the course of a few weeks.
UNHCR took the lead in jointly finalising a Regional Protection Strategic Framework with its partners, to respond to key protection concerns in the LCB and to support the concerned Governments in the implementation of the Abuja Action Statement, which they had agreed upon at the Regional Protection Dialogue held in Abuja, in June 2016. The review of progress made in the implementation of the action plan showed significant achievements in all four countries.
For example in the first half of 2017, Cameroon had started the registration of out-of-camp refugees, an important step towards improving access to asylum and assistance, and in Niger, a census was carried out. Yet the protection needs identified in 2016 continue to be of concern, namely all action points in the Statement related to further strengthening the protection and solutions environment for the affected populations.
In July, the Strategy on Protection, Return and Recovery for North-East Nigeria was finalized in collaboration with Government, development and humanitarian partners in Nigeria, as a follow-up to the Oslo Conference. Despite a challenging operational environment, another major protection milestone was reached on 2 March, with the signing of the Tripartite Agreement between Nigeria, Cameroon and UNHCR to ensure the safe, dignified, voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon when conditions are conducive.
This agreement, together with continued efforts by all actors to implement the Abuja Action Statement will certainly contribute to enhancing the protection and solutions environment for the affected populations as well as strengthen the framework in which partners in Cameroon, Chad and Niger will, together with their respective government counterparts, provide assistance to populations in need and seek to achieve their objectives as outlined in the 2017 Nigeria RRRP.
Host countries need strong political and financial support in order to cope and manage the needs of millions of IDPs, refugees, returnees and host communities. Furthermore, the LCB is faced with environmental degradation and the collapse of the local economy. It is therefore paramount that required funding for all sectors is received, in order to stabilize the response and build on progress made to date.