200,000 people are left homeless as the Borno government closes the IDP camps

2 Nov 2022

According to a report released by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday, the decision by the administration of Borno State to close its camps for internally displaced people had increased misery and hardship for more than 200,000 individuals affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. The group claims that the over 200,000 persons displaced by the Boko Haram fighting have lost their homes and food as a result of the closing of the IDP camps.
“This is as the Governor Babagana Zulum-led government fails to provide those removed with adequate alternatives, thereby violating their rights to housing, food, and livelihoods,” the report says.
The 59-page research, titled "Those Who Returned Are Suffering: Impact of Camp Shutdowns on People Displaced by the Boko Haram Conflict in Nigeria," examines the effects of the closures, which have forced displaced people to leave the camps and disrupted food assistance. According to Human Rights Watch, the Nigerian government has not offered sufficient information or viable alternatives to assure their safety and wellbeing. “As a result, displaced people are struggling to meet their most basic needs including food and shelter in the places which they have returned to or where they have resettled,” it says. Anietie Ewang, a Nigerian researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report's author, claimed that by closing the IDP camps, Zulum's government was endangering people who were already living in dangerous conditions in order to further an ambiguous objective.

“The Borno State government is harming hundreds of thousands of displaced people already living in precarious conditions to advance a dubious government development agenda to wean people off humanitarian aid.
“By forcing people from camps without creating viable alternatives for support, the government is worsening their suffering and deepening their vulnerability,” he said.

The group said that between May 2021 and August 2022, officials in Borno State forced more than 140,000 people to leave eight camps in the state's capital, Maiduguri. It also mentioned the closure of two further camps, Muna Badawi and 400 Housing Estate (Gubio) Camp, which together housed about 74,000 people. According to the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 22 internally displaced people between April and September 2022, including eight who were staying in the Gubio or Dalori I camps and 14 who had left the Bakassi camp, which was closed in November 2021. “Those who left Bakassi camp sought shelter in Maiduguri or in Bama, their home community. Human Rights Watch also interviewed camp management officials, representatives of international humanitarian agencies, and United Nations officials coordinating assistance in Borno State. Food support to the camps stopped soon after Borno State Governor Babagana Umaru Zulum announced in October 2021 that all camps in Maiduguri would be shut down by December 2021. Although several remained open beyond that date, organisations including the UN World Food Programme could not provide support because the slated shutdowns and funding gaps made it impossible to scale up their 2022 plans,” the report says.

The Borno State Emergency Management Authority had given some ad hoc food distribution, but the HRW stated that there had been infrequent and insufficient delivery to fulfill needs. Many respondents admitted that they had been forced to skip meals or go for days without any filling or healthy food. "In the camp in Maiduguri, we could eat protein, like fish, but in Bama, we can't afford this kind of food," a 29-year-old father of four children said. My kids are not as healthy as they should be. They are now weak and emaciated. The group said that despite the risks of traffic accidents, kidnapping, human trafficking, and sexual assault, many children have turned to beg on the streets in order to survive.  “The people affected by camp closures are also living in worse accommodations than they had in the camps. While in the camps, many had lived in tarpaulin tents set up by humanitarian organisations or occupied single rooms in houses built on the premises before they became camp sites. The structures outside the camps seen by Human Rights Watch were poorly built, providing little shelter from the rain. The makeshift thatch structures in Maiduguri and Bama had no access to sanitation facilities, relying on pit latrines separate from their homes,” it says.

Authorities in Borno State claim to have repaired homes that had been damaged during the fight with Boko Haram in areas where they had urged displaced families to return, like Bama. However, many who went back there claimed that their homes had not been repaired. The authorities added that the closures of the camps were required as part of their development program in order to keep people out of humanitarian aid and help them strengthen their resilience so they could help the state flourish. The HRW claims that this appears to be strongly related to the Borno State government's 10-year strategic transformation plan and 25-year development framework, which emphasize the resettling of displaced people in safe, affordable neighborhoods as a crucial sign of success.
Instead of waiting for a worse situation to develop, Human Rights Watch encouraged the UN, particularly its officials in Nigeria, to take more decisive action to protect and lessen the suffering caused to displaced people in Borno State. It says, “Borno State authorities should suspend the closure of the remaining camps until adequate plans and genuine consultations are made with the camp residents and other key actors.
“Nigerian authorities should recognise that hasty closure of camps is sabotaging efforts to improve the lives of displaced people,” Ewang said. “Anything short of investment in collective efforts with aid providers to ensure durable and dignified solutions for displaced people will be a step in the wrong direction.”

Punchng, '200,000 displaced as Borno govt shuts IDP camps' (online, 2022) <https://punchng.com/200000-displaced-as-borno-govt-shuts-idp-camps/>.

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