Approximately 26 million people in the Lake Chad Region have been affected by the conflict, and over 2.6 million have been displaced. The humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by conflict induced hunger and malnutrition which have escalated to critical levels. 14 million Nigerians in the six most affected states in Nigeria are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2017. The conflict and its spillover into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger has resulted in a regional displacement crisis in the Lake Chad Region with over 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria, 87% of whom originate from Borno State, and nearly 200,000 refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, along with the already sizeable internal displacement situations in these three main refugee hosting countries (Cameroon: 183,000; Chad: 89,000; and Niger: 121,000).
There are numerous protection issues in areas of displacement and potential return which contribute directly to ongoing violence and create obstacles to durable solutions. These issues include restrictions on freedom of movement and humanitarian access due to insecurity, violations of international humanitarian law, sexual and gender-based violence, forced recruitment (including of children), disappearances, family separation, and violations of housing, land and property rights (particularly when individual civil documentation is missing). Addressing the complex protection needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees as well as restoring their human rights are critical foundations for stability in affected areas and solutions for persons of concern in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region.
The magnitude of the humanitarian 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 if it is to be effective. In the immediate term the focus is on the following critical protection needs:
improving physical security, freedom of movement and humanitarian access;
enhancing protection of civilians, in particular with regard to prevention of and response to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) as well as protection of children from violence, exploitation and abuse;
providing emergency education prioritising out of school children;
providing targeted psychosocial support to persons with specific needs;
availing specific livelihood and empowerment support and;
resolution of housing, land and property disputes.
The Nigeria situation demands a comprehensive response by humanitarian and development actors, not just on protection, but with regard to addressing the challenges of exclusion, marginalization and abject poverty which, among other factors, are at the core of the root causes fuelling conflict and violence, creating protection risks and impeding realization of durable solutions. To this end, gender equality, inclusion, empowerment, community reconciliation and social cohesion are central to restoring rights, reducing violations and supporting solutions, especially as concerns the sustainability of voluntary returns and identification of viable alternatives.
The ongoing counter-insurgency measures put in place by the Nigerian security forces and regional multi-national security partners have, over the past several months, led to improvements in security and humanitarian access to some areas which were previously insecure and inaccessible. IDPs and refugees have started to return, a fact that has been observed in areas accessible for assessments. It is critical that these returns remain voluntary, occur in safety and in dignity, and that additional opportunities for solutions are identified and seized upon. At the same time, due to the ongoing conflict, new displacement occurs regularly, including to unsafe or inaccessible areas.
More needs to be done in terms of providing physical security and restoring rights. This is because the effective protection of civilians leads to opportunities for durable solutions to displacement. There is also an intrinsic linkage between protection and solutions. Protection is at the core of the fundamental requirements for the voluntary returns of refugees to occur in safety and dignity, in particular with regard to making informed decisions on solutions and adherence to the principle of non-refoulement. Similarly, the return of IDPs to their places of origin should be voluntary, in that they should be provided with the opportunity to access alternative solutions such as local integration or relocation to another place of residence in order to avoid situations of prolonged displacement.
To address the complex protection dimension of the regional humanitarian crisis, the Governments of the Lake Chad Region – Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger – adopted the Abuja Action Statement on 8 June 2016 to galvanize a protection-focused approach to solutions for displaced persons.