HRW: Nigerians struggling after government closes camps, cuts aid

The human rights group says authorities are ‘harming hundreds of thousands … to advance dubious government development agenda”.

FILE- In this Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 file photo, Civilians who fled their homes following an attacked by Islamist militants in Bama, take refuge at a School in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Civilians who fled their homes following an attack by Boko Haram in Bama, Nigeria, take refuge at a school in Maiduguri [File: Jossy Ola/AP Photo]

More than 200,000 Nigerians displaced by long-running violence are struggling for food and shelter after authorities in the northeast shut some of the camps they were living in and stopped aid, international watchdog Human Rights Watch says.

In October 2021, Borno state, epicentre of the Boko Haram conflict, announced that it was shutting all camps holding thousands of internally displaced people and returning some of them to their communities. It cited improved security and a need to wean the displaced from humanitarian aid.

In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said people removed from the camps were struggling to meet their most basic needs, including food and shelter, in the places where they had returned or resettled.

More than 140,000 people had been removed from eight camps in Borno while food aid to two more camps had been stopped as of August this year, Human Rights Watch said. Those two camps hold more than 74,000 people and will close this year.

“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,” Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.

“By forcing people from camps without creating viable alternatives for support, the government is worsening their suffering and deepening their vulnerability,” she said.

Borno state commissioner for information Babakura Abba Jato told Reuters he could not immediately comment on the report.

The state government says some areas formerly occupied by Boko Haram fighters are now safe for citizens to return to, and it has rebuilt some communities although aid groups say they remain vulnerable to attacks.

Some of the camps and settlements for displaced people have been hit by a cholera outbreak, and children have been the worst hit.

Last month, about 2,000 people started moving into a new residential complex in Ngarannam that had been rebuilt by the United Nations and the state government.

Ngarannam, 50km (31 miles) south of Borno’s capital, Maiduguri, was overrun by Boko Haram in 2015.

Source: Reuters