North East Nigeria is presently undergoing a watershed moment. Not only is the region home to approximately 2 million IDPs it is in the throes of militancy which seems to have found a kind of resurgence and thereby, enhancing and exacerbating existing protection risks and vulnerabilities of the affected populations. In addition the past few weeks witnessed NSAG targeting security forces resulting in joint offensive of the armies of Chad, Niger and Nigeria in the Lake Chad Basin. This operation itself is expected to result in additional waves of refugee returnees as well as asylum seeks into Borno, and possibly Adamawa and Yobe. The protection risks and vulnerabilities are only going to be accentuated with the Covid-19 pandemic and associated preventive and response measures undertaken by state and humanitarians.
The Covid-19 pandemic is expected to heighten stress and challenges already existing in the IDP camps where access to health and hygiene services, livelihoods, free movement and basic necessities is already at a premium. Lack or inadequacy of such services and amenities has already steered the affected populations to adopting negative coping mechanisms. The humanitarian actors have already begun putting in place certain measures to ensure the affected populations, especially in camps and host communities, both IDPs, host community populations, civilians, remain abreast of the situation in terms of information, advocacy, maintenance of hygiene and social distancing where possible. The government has already imposed restrictions on freedom of movement. This has consequences for both humanitarians as well as affected populations. For the former it creates challenges to access the camps and continue with the provision of live saving services such as food distribution, health care and protection related services. For the affected populations, the restrictions on movement further hinder their access to livelihoods, farms and firewood and may lead to mental health conditions as well as expose them to other protection risks including abuse of power by authorities.
The threat of stigmatization and discrimination is very real. The challenge it poses has to be taken into account when state and humanitarians are already planning setting up ‘quarantine zones’ for new arrivals at camps and also for refugee returnees and asylum seekers. Some camps have declared that they will not taken in new arrivals.
In North East Nigeria, where there already exists an emergency situation, the humanitarian actors have already begun putting in place certain measures to ensure the affected populations, especially in camps and host communities, both IDPs, host community populations, civilians, remain abreast of the situation in terms of information, advocacy, maintenance of hygiene and social distancing. The DHC along with the OHCT has been disseminating guidelines and instructions on measures to be put in place and followed in light of the situation arising from the threat of spread of Covid-19. All measures are being put in place to ensure that camp communities are protected and that infection does not enter the camps. As such, self quarantine measures are being observed by humanitarian workers who travel to Maiduguri; there is reduction in the number of meetings with all such interface now web-based; almost all international humanitarian actors are teleworking and significantly, camp visits, especially by international staff is suspended.