By Rafiu Ajakaye
LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) - The United Nations refugee agency said Monday that communities in Nigeria’s northeast are not yet ready for the return of some 2 million displaced persons, citing the lack of basic amenities and continuing threat of violence by militants.
“While military operations have brought back under government control a number of areas in northeastern Nigeria, conditions in much of that region are not yet conducive for the return of refugees and IDPs, particularly in Borno State,” United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) West Africa chief Liz Ahua said in the country’s capital Abuja.
“Alongside persistent threats from Boko Haram, the absence of basic services pose acute humanitarian and protection risks,” Ahua added, saying over 9 million children are in need of humanitarian aid across the region.
At the opening of “Protection Dialogue,” an event for representatives of countries in the Lake Chad region and civil society groups to discuss issues around the militancy, Ahua said over 60 percent of persons forcibly displaced from their homes are children. She put the figure of internally displaced persons and refugees across the Lake Chad region at roughly 2.7 million, with Nigeria accounting for at least 2.1 million of them.
Ahua said several communities affected by the insurgency remain inaccessible to humanitarian assistance due to security threats, while basic infrastructure such as school buildings and homes lie in ruins following attacks by militants.
Up to 1,800 schools have been shut or destroyed across the region, forcing around a million children out of school, she added.
“The conflict has also had a devastating effect on the local economies of the Lake Chad Basin region – one of the poorest in the world – putting a serious halt to already fragile livelihood activities such as fishing, farming, and trading,” she said.
The UNHCR said in a statement that the primary objective of the regional event is to identify “the most pressing protection risks of the populations affected by the Boko Haram terror in the Lake Chad Basin, and to agree on concrete measures to better support governments in ensuring the protection of refugees, internally displaced persons, and host communities”.
Starting Monday, the three-day event is being attended by representatives from across the Lake Chad basin nations, civil society groups, academia, and donor agencies. It will end with a ministerial meeting to validate findings and endorse the way forward, with an action statement for which participants will ensure concrete follow-up, according to the UNHCR.