Responding to the protection crisis in the Lake Chad basin
Nearly 2.5 million people are forcibly displaced in the Lake Chad Basin region1 due to the ongoing conflict, and new displacement continues. Resorting to terror, widespread sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), exposure to trafficking2 including abductions, forced recruitment and suicide bombings, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and attacks on civilians persist. The context of ongoing insecurity poses particular challenges to ensuring an appropriate protection environment. The situation is further compounded by the fragile socio-economic context of the Sahel, which includes chronic poverty, harsh climatic conditions, recurrent epidemics, poor infrastructure and limited access to basic services.
Ongoing hostilities in all affected countries, as well as the absence of basic services, have created acute humanitarian and protection risks for those impacted by the crisis, including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and local communities. Renewed efforts are needed to support duty bearers in ensuring the protection of the affected populations.
Throughout 2018, armed attacks persisted across the Lake Chad Basin region, targeting civilians, including displaced populations and their sites, towns and villages. Despite evolution of security conditions in significant areas in North-East Nigeria under Government control, conditions in most affected areas are not yet conducive for the return of Nigerian refugees and IDPs and displacement of populations continues to take place. New insecurity developments have been noticed in the North-West of Nigeria over the past quarter of 2019, prompting new displacements from the Zamfara State. A similar situation of insecurity and humanitarian needs prevails in Chad’s Lake region, Cameroonian border areas and Niger’s Diffa and Maradi regions.
As the crisis enters its ninth year, the situation of displacement has become a protracted one. Ongoing hostilities, pre-existing social and climatic conditions and resources and governance constraints, continue to have a negative impact on affected populations, exacerbating humanitarian and protection needs. Many people remain inaccessible to humanitarian actors due to insecurity, particularly in Nigeria’s Borno and Zamfara States, and border areas of Cameroon and Niger.
Today, the humanitarian and protection situations in Nigeria, as well as in the border areas with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, remains dire. The violence has uprooted nearly 2.5 million civilians within their respective countries, including over 1.9 million IDPs in Nigeria alone. In addition, some 229,000 Nigerian refugees have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.3 The protection issues are many and complex. Persistent insecurity and Non-State Armed Group’s (NSAG) attacks on civilian – including the targeting of settlements – remain serious security and protection risks. The security context and cross border expansion of NSAG has also led to restrictive measures by states’ security organs around border areas, and refugee and IDP locations, such as border closures, interdiction of using motorcycles, banning some specific livelihood activities and severe limitations on freedom of movement. Many persons have been displaced multiple times, which further erodes the self-protection capacities of individuals.
Access to rights is being limited, including the right to seek and enjoy asylum. Arrests and detention are also on the rise as civilians, including refugees and IDPs, are suspected of collaborating with NSAG. Children have also been the target of arbitrary arrests and detention caused by suspicion of ties with extremist groups4 . At the same time, in preparation for military interventions and due to insecurity, Governments have organized the relocation of civilians from border areas.
In fact, cases of forced returns and relocations of IDPs, as well as of refugees and asylum seekers to Nigeria, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, continued to raise concerns in 2018.
The crisis has adversely affected the most vulnerable civilian population, particularly women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities or serious medical conditions. Almost 63 per cent of those displaced are children and the number of females and children headed households is on the increase5 because male heads of households have either been detained, killed or fear to return to join their families.
Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), exposure to trafficking and other forms of violence and abuse, is widespread, and many people have suffered the trauma of violent experiences. Women, girls and boys remain the most vulnerable to SGBV and the most targeted by NSAG, with abductions, forced marriage, sale of girls, sexual slavery, use as suicide bombers and forced conscription. Cases of exploitation and abuse and transactional sex have been also reported occurring in IDP camps.
Since the conflict erupted in 2009, in Nigeria 611 teachers have been killed, 19,000 teachers displaced, 910 schools damaged or destroyed, and more than 1,500 schools forced to close. As a result, an estimated 900,000 children have lost access to learning while 75 per cent of children in camps do not attend school.6 In addition, much of the population in the Lake Chad Basin lacks documentation, posing a risk of statelessness, restriction of movement, risk of detention and therefore facing impediments to accessing services and rights, as well as complicating efforts to identify and register asylum-seekers and refugees.
Nor are the persons affected by the conflict restricted to displaced persons. With the vast majority of displaced persons living in host communities, the impact on local populations is significant, as is the strain displacement has placed on limited resources and services throughout the region. Local economies and livelihoods have been disrupted by the conflict and security measures, which have included restrictions on movements and livelihoods activities.
Although conditions in much of north-eastern Nigeria are not yet conducive for return, and although repeated crossborder movements may be occurring, a significant number of IDPs and refugees have returned, sometimes under conditions that have not been voluntary, safe and dignified. Many of these return movements have resulted in secondary displacements as areas of origin remain insecure and inaccessible.
The magnitude of the crisis occurring in a conflict characterized by systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law requires the response to be strategic, prioritised and focused. It demands a comprehensive response by protection, humanitarian and development actors to address not only immediate critical protection needs, but also the challenges at the core of the root causes fuelling the conflict and violence, such as issues of exclusion, marginalisation and abject poverty. In line with the reaffirmation of the commitments of the Abuja Action Statement, humanitarian and development actors must strengthen their efforts to support the Governments and duty bearers, through a comprehensive approach to establish and strengthen an appropriate protection and solutions environment for the affected populations.