Thematic Series - The Invisible Majority: “Once the Road is Safe” - Displacement and return in north-eastern Nigeria (August 2019)
This thematic series addresses the gap in awareness, data and knowledge about the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movements and durable solutions.
North-eastern Nigeria has borne the brunt of so-called Boko Haram’s jihadist insurgency since 2009. More than 1.9 million people were internally displaced as a result of the group’s violence as of January 2019, and over 230,000 refugees have sought shelter in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
This report, which is based on interviews with 345 internally displaced people (IDPs) and returning refugees, examines the drivers of displacement and onward movement within and across Nigeria’s borders, provides a better understanding of people’s priorities and preconditions for return, and explores obstacles and opportunities for durable solutions. The report is part of IDMC’s “Invisible Majority” thematic series, which examines the relationship between internal displacement and cross-border movements. It arrives at the following key findings.
Most people are displaced more than once
Violent and often indiscriminate attacks against civilians by different factions and splinter groups of Boko Haram are the leading cause of displacement in northeastern Nigeria. Escalating violence led to a spike in displacement throughout the region in 2014, and people continue to flee five years later. As many as 341,000 new displacements associated with conflict and violence were recorded in 2018. Many interviewees had been displaced more than once, including some who had returned to their homes only to be displaced again.
Proximity and social ties facilitate cross-border movements
Insecurity also triggers cross border movement to neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
There is a longstanding history of cross-border migration in the region, and for people displaced in Nigeria’s border regions it can be easier to seek refuge abroad than internally. That said, some people are unable to leave the country for lack of financial or social capital.
Unreliable information leads to unsustainable returns
A tripartite agreement between the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon offers a channel for the repatriation of Nigerian refugees, but challenges remain in ensuring that returns are voluntary and sustainable. Harsh conditions in exile and perceived improvements in the security situation in Nigeria combine to encourage premature returns.
IDPs too live in poor conditions, and many are anxious to return and re-establish their former livelihoods, but insecurity remains a barrier.
Returning refugees and IDPs experience similar challenges
Due to destruction of homes and ongoing insecurity, many refugees return to live among IDPs. Fewer than a third of the returning refugees interviewed were living in their areas of origin. Living conditions for people displaced in north-eastern Nigeria are poor and there are few opportunities to generate income. Camps are overcrowded, and access to services and assistance in host communities is limited.
Durable solutions are overlooked in focus on emergency response
The emergency response to Nigeria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis has taken precedence over longer-term development programming, despite the fact that people’s lack of livelihoods contributes to displacement drivers in the region. Real investments in adult education, training and employment will be vital in facilitating durable solutions.