The Nigerian Refugee Crisis

“I counted eighteen bodies around me, but we managed to escape. We arrived here with empty hands,” recounts Falmatou, the 45-year-old mother of eight of her escape from her Boko Haram-captured home of Assaga in Northern Nigeria. “In Assaga, there is only suffering, nothing more,” she continues, almost vehemently. Spoken against a backdrop of her home, which consists of a large cloth emblazoned with a UNHCR logo, she heart-rendingly relates that “[Her] dream is to have a house built out of solid material.”

Such is the dream for many more Nigerians like her, who have been displaced due to a combination of deadly variables, primarily famine, drought, and the influence of the radicalist group branding themselves ‘Boko Haram.’ 2.6 million Nigerians have been displaced as a result of the confluence of these factors, but the options that lay ahead appear just as bleak as the ones that they might have faced had they remained behind. Their options for migration are to either seek asylum elsewhere in the country, migrate to surrounding countries, or to apply for asylum in Europe. The pattern, as predicted by the trend evident in Africa as a whole, is internal displacement. In fact, Europe takes in a meagre 5% of all asylum applicants, with Italy being the most popular haven for Nigerian applicants, of which 31,000 exist. Migrating to surrounding countries such as Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger is a slightly more viable option; however, these countries have significantly lower GDPs, which means that even a slight surge in the population may prove to exert a pressure on its food supplies that current production methods may or do not have the capacity to match. Further, granting asylum might introduce unwelcome political tensions, or even the attentions of the Boko Haram. Cameroon has recently begun taking action against the surge of refugees, with its military escorting back large numbers of Nigerian immigrants. Within the country, there are two primary camps that help the 1.8 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Monguno, a governorate in the Borno State has nine camps dedicated to IDPs, while Maidugiri (also known as Yerwa), the capital of the Borno State, is also relatively free from the influence of the Boko Haram. However, the influx of IDPs has raised certain issues. In Maidugiri, a city of 1.1 million people, 150 thousand immigrants, only a quarter of the refugee population, have been assigned half-built schools and hospitals to stay, while the remaining 450 thousand have been taken in by relatives and friends.

However, this generosity has come at a price: unemployment rates have exceeded 50%, and poverty and homelessness have risen dramatically. Monguno, on the other hand, has issues such as corruption rife amidst the larger issues of malnutrition, thirst, and outbreaks and resurgences of diseases such as polio, which had previously been documented as far as two years back. Some consider Monguno to be the worse off between the two safe havens, since it had been shouldering the refugee population burden for nearly 18 months before Maidugiri added its efforts. Nearly 5.5 million refugees, including the ones at Monguno must battle scorching temperatures of 100°F. The corruption only serves to exacerbate the problem, with officials stealing the food rationed for the IDPs. The UNHCR, amongst other NGOs, has been pleading with governments to help attenuate the people’s suffering, but so far has only managed to raise USD 12.5 million against its requirement of USD 169.9 million.

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