The closure of Internally Displaced People’s Camps in Borno should be brought to an immediate halt until people can be relocated safely and in line with international law, a leading human rights group says.
The government-ordered closure of Internally Displaced People’s camps in Borno has violated people’s human rights, and breaks an international treaty, Human Rights Watch has said in a new report.
In the 59-page report published on November 2, the international rights group said that more than 200,000 IDPs in the Northeastern state have been plunged into dire conditions following the camp closures authorised by the state government.
Halting relocations was part of a 30-item list of recommendations contained in the report.
The report, titled “Those Who Returned Are Suffering: Impact of Camp Shutdowns on People Displaced By Boko Haram Conflict in Nigeria,” says the state government failed to meet the conditions required by international conventions before the relocation began.
IDPs have the right “to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk,” according to article 9 of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. The agreement is also known as the Kampala Convention, which Nigeria has ratified and should therefore be bound to comply.
The government of Borno State said its closure of IDP camps was to facilitate the return of IDPs to communities which it claimed were “safer”.
HRW says “subsequent reports have highlighted continued insecurity in many communities to which displaced persons are being encouraged to return.”
According to the convention, displaced persons are to be offered the liberty to make “a free and informed choice on whether to return, integrate locally or relocate by consulting them on these and other options and ensuring their participation in finding sustainable solutions.”
The manner in which the relocation was related to the IDPs did not provide them the opportunity to take actions that were of their own volition, HRW says.
Struggle for survival
In May 2021, the government of Borno State officially started closing IDP camps. It delayed the date once due to security concerns.
The government said that it was not imposing its decision on the IDPs. It gave IDPs from Damasak, Bama, and Konduga the option of either “resettlement in Auno, or Maiduguri metropolis, or in their respective communities.”
Officials of the Borno State government at the time assured HumAngle that all of their actions towards the resettlement of IDPs were taken in accordance with international laws. “We respect their (IDPs) dignity” as well as the international laws guiding their relocation, they said.
Displaced persons who spoke to HumAngle at the time did not appear to be keen on either of the choices that lay before them.
“I am currently in my second year as an NCE student here in Maiduguri, and I have no option than to accept one of the options because, whether I like it or not, the government had said it would be closing the camps at all cost,” an IDP who spoke on condition of anonymity told HumAngle.
In October 2021, the government announced that it would shut down all camps in Maiduguri by December 31.
What followed the announcement by the government was intense anxiety from IDPs who did not want to leave the camps for reasons bordering on security, hunger, and the like.
Women in the resettled communities would be at risk of more abuse than they did in the camps, a desk officer from Sexual Gender Based Violence NGO told HumAngle.
As the Borno State government forged ahead with its resettlement plans, humanitarian agencies warned that the resettlement would cause more harm than good for the IDPs.
“At least 6 people were killed and 14 injured in Agiri, Mafa Local Government Area on 30 August 2021, one month after they were resettled. Returnees in New Marte, Agiri and Shuwari have experienced multiple attacks by Boko Haram since their resettlement,” a December 2021 report by Amnesty International read.
As predicted by humanitarian organisations, the displaced suffered immense hardships as they struggled to adjust to their new living conditions. In March 2022, HumAngle reported that hunger and economic hardship were forcing resettled IDPs back to Maiduguri, the state capital.
Driven by economic hardship and hunger, in April resettled IDPs in Bama began to flee the town to territories controlled by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). There, they became middlemen for the terrorists, performing tasks for them in exchange for food.
In August, HumAngle reported that resettled IDPs in Kirawa community were crossing over to neighbouring Cameroon in search of potable water.
Recently, in October, HumAngle spoke to some resettled IDPs in Borno who expressed their fears of attack and recruitment from terrorists who lurk around.
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