Maiduguri over­whelmed by vic­tims of Boko Haram in­sur­gency

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Celia Le­bur

Ali Bukar didn’t know any­one when he ar­rived in Maiduguri with 43 peo­ple in tow and not a coin in his pocket. Bukar was flee­ing the bru­tal killings of civil­ians by the Boko Haram Is­lamists in north­east Nige­ri­aa­long with his wives, his sons, their wives and grand­chil­dren. They slept in a parking lot “un­til a man took pity on us,” he said. Around one mil­lion peo­ple have flooded the cap­i­tal of Borno state seek­ing to escape the in­sur­gency that Boko Haram has waged since 2009.

The camps set up for dis­placed peo­ple are not suf­fi­cient, so many res­i­dents of Maiduguri have opened their doors to these vic­tims of con­flict. But now years later the refugees still can­not re­turn to their home vil­lages, and strug­gling city res­i­dents are start­ing to blame the in­flux for prob­lems in the com­mu­nity. Be­tween 70 to 90 per­cent of the dis­placed in Maiduguri have re­lied on the com­pas­sion of the lo­cal peo­ple to sur­vive. Bukar and his fam­ily have never stayed at a camp. A lo­cal mer­chant had wel­comed them to his home and fed them for a year, the scar-faced old man said.

But then they had to leave be­cause the fi­nan­cial bur­den be­came too much, Bukar said. To­day the fam­ily is liv­ing in a so-called “host­ing com­mu­nity”, one of hun­dreds of such pri­vate places where refugees are shel­tered around the city. “I couldn’t just sit there and watch peo­ple die of hunger, I had to help them,” said Baba Kura Al-Kahi, the boss of these host­ing com­mu­ni­ties, a lo­cal busi­ness­man who made his for­tune in real es­tate and in 2013 turned over some land he owned to the dis­placed.

Boko Haram epi­cen­ter

To­day many refugees are squat­ters on con­struc­tion sites, in schools, in pub­lic hous­ing, while thou­sands of oth­ers are taken in by rel­a­tives or mem­bers of their eth­nic group, of­ten Ka­nuri or Hausa. Neigh­bors have or­ga­nized aid, grow­ing food for the most needy, bring­ing them clothes and sheets and cook­ing uten­sils. But “re­sources are over­stretched, es­pe­cially with re­gards to wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, with re­gards to hos­pi­tal fa­cil­i­ties, with re­gards to even food se­cu­rity is­sues,” the Borno state gover­nor, Kashim Shet­tima said.

Still Maiduguri, af­ter years of be­ing un­der siege, has a sem­blance of nor­mal life com­pared with the dev­as­tated hin­ter­land. The city’s cease­fire has been pushed back four hours to 10:00 pm. Sol­diers and check­points are less no­tice­able and mer­chants and passers-by have re­turned to the cen­tre city’s side­walks. The schools, which were closed for two years, re­opened last month.

Over the past year, Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s govern­ment has made re­peated an­nounce­ments that Boko Haram is close to be­ing de­feated, and Shet­tima con­sid­ers the bat­tle “over” and pre­dicts that hun­dreds of thou­sands of dis­placed peo­ple will have re­turned to their homes by May But this is the cra­dle of Boko Haram Is­lamists and they have not dis­ap­peared. Just last week­end, a new sui­cide bomb­ing hit Maiduguri’s busy mar­ket, killing one per­son and in­jur­ing 18 oth­ers. The two bombers were girls thought to be only seven or eight years old, a hall­mark of the ji­hadist group which of­ten uses women or girls in such op­er­a­tions-es­pe­cially in Borno state-the epi­cen­tre of their in­sur­gency.

Beg­ging and pros­ti­tu­tion

And the econ­omy of the re­gion has been rav­aged by war. Un­em­ploy­ment is sky high at around 35 per­cent or more, ac­cord­ing to the Borno gover­nor. In the streets of Maiduguri the num­ber of beg­gars in rags who bang on the wind­shields of the cars stopped at red lights has mush­roomed. The city’s ills are now be­ing blamed on the refugees, these waves of peo­ple who have flooded Maiduguri and dou­bled its pop­u­la­tion since the Boko Haram re­volt be­gan. The in­sur­gency has left more than 20,000 peo­ple dead and 2.6 mil­lion dis­placed in north­ern Nige­ria. The gover­nor says the dis­placed camps “are the source of many prob­lems”, in­clud­ing net­works for pros­ti­tu­tion and drug traf­fick­ing.

“The res­i­dents helped as much as they could but now they are more and more crit­i­cal.” a jour­nal­ist in Maiduguri who re­quested anonymity said. “The peo­ple are afraid of the crime and epi­demics that can arise,” Yan­nick Poucha­lan, di­rec­tor of Ac­tion against Hunger in Nige­ria, says “it is clear that Maiduguri can­not of­fer a de­cent life to all these peo­ple,” Yet com­pared to the vil­lages, the refugees, es­pe­cially the youth, find the city has more to of­fer. “If you are 15, and you can take ad­van­tage of the se­cu­rity, the ser­vices of a big city and have ac­cess to the in­ter­net... you’re surely not go­ing to go back home to your vil­lage,” Poucha­lan says.


Photo shows a gen­eral view of the aban­doned streets in Bama in north­east Nige­ria.

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