The Borno State Government (BSG) public commitment to close all IDP camps in Maiduguri during 2021 has translated in recent weeks into concrete actions. The actual and planned camp closures coincide with the BSG’s ongoing agenda,promoting the return of IDPs to their areas of origin, which is gradually implemented since August 2020.
The recent developments in three camps on the outskirts of Maiduguri, described below, raise serious concerns about the safety and well-being of the affected communities throughout the process of closing IDP camps, especially when such closure leads to the movement of IDPs to certain areas identified for return or resettlement. Recent attacks in Damasak and Marte/Dikwa demonstrate the grave risks to civilians, including IDPs and humanitarian workers, and that the situation on the ground has yet to improve before such Government-induced movements can safely take place.
According to Sector’s partners, as well as media reports, in March 2021 BSG officials, headed by the Governor,visited two Maiduguri IDP camps, MOGCOLIS and NYSC. During these visits, which were held around midnight, the imminent closure of the camps was announced. BSG officials also conducted a night headcount of IDPs present in each of the camps, after blocking the camp entries. Those who were present, and ‘verified’ as IDPs, received tokens to be used during food distribution. Hundreds of IDPs, however, did not receive the 'eligibility token' and, reportedly, were excluded from distribution as a result.
In addition, BSG presented IDPs with two options following the planned camp closure. They can either i) relocate to their area of origin or nearby location, deemed safe by the BSG, with cash support and food assistance for two months;or ii) find alternative accommodation in Maiduguri with cash support.
In MOGCOLIS camp, IDPs, originally from Mobbar and Abadam LGAs, were given a one week notice ahead of camp closure,which created panic among the IDPs. The BSG proposed the option of resettling in Damasak (Mobbar LGA) or moving elsewhere in Maiduguri. While at present the planned closure has yet to be implemented, Damasak was repeatedly targeted earlier this month by large-scale attacks by Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs), resulting in the loss of lives and serious damage to civilian and humanitarian assets. In addition, new arrivals from Damasak have been reported notwithstanding the closure announcement.
In NYSC camp, the camp closure is expected to take place by the end of May 2021. Anticipating such closure, some IDPs have already started looking for alternative options. They pointed the fear of being relocated to areas that are unsafe, with no means of livelihood or that are inaccessible to humanitarian assistance.
In Bakassi camp, about 400 HHs, who arrived at the camp following NSAGs attacks on Marte and Dikwa in February2021, have refused to register in Bakassi, fearing that the authorities would identify and send them back to Marte. They were initially returned by the BSG to Marte in November-December 2020, and were de-registered when they left. When Marte was attacked they fled the violence to Maiduguri. Their current ‘irregular’ status puts an additional strain on their extremely vulnerable situation.