To complement and strengthen government efforts, the 2019-2020 Nigeria Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) updated for 2020 outlines the inter-agency response and financial requirements for the ongoing needs of 291,700 Nigerian refugees hosted in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The Plan includes refugees fleeing as a result of the Lake Chad Basin crisis as well as the more recent Nigerian refugee arrivals in Niger’s Maradi region. The RRRP also seeks to address the needs of impacted 97,600 host populations in the affected areas and includes activities that intend to bridge the humanitarian emergency response to a longer-term perspective that builds resilience at the individual and local insititution levels.
As far as the Lake Chad Basin crisis is concerned, RRRP partners will be entering the seventh year of the response. Non-State Armed Groups (NSAG) attacks, kidnappings and related armed conflicts continue to cause civilian casualties and forced displacement within and beyond the borders of Nigeria. Over the years, more than 279,000 Nigerian refugees have been forced to seek protection in neighbouring Lake Chad Basin countries, including in Cameroon’s Far North Region, Chad’s Lac Region and Niger’s Diffa Region.
Across the region, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) has led military operations, which have resulted in sporadic improvements in the security situation. Yet, the proliferation of different insurgent groups in the Lake Chad Basin has made containment efforts more challenging, with the second half of 2019 marked by a renewed increase in security incidents. In Cameroon, NSAG attacks and resulting military operations in border areas continue to impede Nigerian refugees’ access to asylum. In Chad, the main challenge to assisting refugees living in host villages is restricted humanitarian access. In Niger repeated suicide attacks, assaults, and incursions perpetrated by NSAGs since March 2019 have resulted in secondary movements of tens of thousands of people within the Diffa region. NSAG attacks and military counter-insurgency operations along the Nigerian border are likely to trigger new refugee arrivals in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Overall, the prospects for voluntary return in safety and dignity in 2020 remain limited for most Nigerian refugees.
In this context and as spelled out in the January 2019 Reaffirmation of the Commitments of the Abuja Action Statement, putting the emphasis on protection remains essential in the response to the Lake Chad Basin crisis to ensure that refugees have access to asylum, to protection from refoulement as well as access to registration and civil status documentation. Maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee and IDP sites/hosting areas and effective civil-military coordination are required to reduce protection risks. In addition, it is essential that persons with specific needs – including survivors of violence, children at risk2 and persons living with disability – can access protection and services. Weak local protection services remain a major challenge in this respect.
To compound an already complex situation, the Lake Chad Basin faces endemic poverty and lagging economic productivity. Rapid population growth, climate change and extreme weather events have increased the vulnerability of local populations. Insecurity, state of emergency measures as well as mass displacements, have limited agriculture, fisheries, trade, transhumance and other activities – thus depriving the population of income generating opportunities and limiting their access to basic services. In Nigeria, the NSAGs insurgency has deepened the north-south divide with 68 per cent of the population in the most affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe being ‘multidimensionally poor’3 compared to the 51.4 per cent national average. In Cameroon the gap is even greater, with 80 per cent considered ‘multidimensionally poor’ in the Far North region compared to the 45.3 per cent national average.
In Chad’s Lac Chad region an alarming 98.2 per cent of the population fall into the category ‘multidimensionally poor’ against a national average of 85.7 per cent. In the Diffa region of Niger, 90.2 per cent of the population are ‘multidimensionally poor’ which is comparable to the overall high national average of 90.5 per cent.
In these structurally weak areas, which are further fragilized by insecurity, host communities struggle to absorb the large number of Nigerian refugees, 63 per cent of whom have settled out of camps alongside host populations and IDPs. As the protracted crisis magnifies social and economic disparities in the Lake Chad region, tensions between refugees and host communities have been growing.
In addition to the Lake Chad crisis, since the first half of 2019 new displacement from Nigeria has affected Niger’s Maradi region. Escalating violence and tensions between mostly Haoussa farmers and Fulani pastoralists in the Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states located in north-western Nigeria have forced over 35,000 Nigerians5 to seek asylum in the Maradi region. The humanitarian needs in the overwhelmed refugee hosting areas, with already weak infrastructure and basic services, are substantial. With ongoing insecurity on the border, RRRP partners are working with the Government of Niger to relocate refugees away from the border to ‘opportunity villages’, in order to mitigate security risks and to provide better living conditions. This scheme contributes to developing rural areas that lack adequate infrastructure and basic services, in line with the humanitarian-development nexus, ensuring that assistance provision is sustainable and reaches the host population as well.
In view of the prolonged character of the Nigeria refugee crisis, humanitarian assistance needs to be complemented by development interventions in the countries of asylum, to strengthen the resilience of refugees and host communities. In accordance with the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees6, the Nigeria RRRP is working to strengthen existing national services and social structures and to promote the inclusion of refugees in these systems.
In Chad, education facilities built in refugee camps were officially integrated into the national education system, and RRRP partners advocate for the same approach for health services. In Niger, humanitarian and development actors like the World Bank collaborate on the refugee response, while refugees and host communities will be included in national development plans such as the Crisis Recovery Plan for Diffa, introduced by the National High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace. In Cameroon, UNHCR and partners developed a joint multi-year-multi-partner strategy (MYMPs) as well as operational projects for the Far North region to support the resilience of refugees, local authorities, and the host community. In 2020, RRRP partners continue to pursue these and similar initiatives to provide more integrated, sustainable programming and results for refugees and host communities.