Tu­nisia says Jewish pil­grims safe

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

LA­GOS — Many of the women and girls res­cued from Boko Haram are trau­ma­tised and show­ing signs of de­pres­sion, with psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­selling ur­gently needed as they re­cover in camps in north­east Nige­ria, re­lief of­fi­cials said on Mon­day.

“For some of them, who are re­ally show­ing signs of trauma, we need to make them re­alise that this is not the end of life,” said Sa’ad Bello, the Na­tional Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (NEMA) camp co­or­di­na­tor in Adamawa state.

“They need trauma coun­selling and psy­cho-so­cial sup­port... to de­velop cop­ing mech­a­nisms,” he told AFP, adding that many of the fe­male hostages ap­peared to be suf­fer­ing from se­ri­ous de­pres­sion, likely af­ter en­dur­ing sus­tained abuse by their Is­lamists cap­tors.

A to­tal of 275 women and chil­dren were brought to a camp in Adamawa’s cap­i­tal Yola, at the week­end, fol­low­ing a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to free them in Boko Haram’s Sam­bisa For­est strong­hold.

NEMA spokesman Manzo Ezekiel said a pri­or­ity was to pro­vide “trauma man­age­ment so they’re not treated as out­casts when they go back to so­ci­ety”.

Crushed by tanks Two women de­scribed how mil­i­tant fighters tried to force them into mar­ry­ing rebels af­ter they were cap­tured and how their es­cape turned to tragedy as at least three women were killed by land­mines.

Oth­ers were crushed by tanks as they hid in the un­der­growth of the dense for­est to avoid shelling and fir­ing be­tween the sol­diers and Boko Haram.

Ezekiel said the au­thor­i­ties were keen to avoid the women be­ing stig­ma­tised in re­li­giously con­ser­va­tive north­ern Nige­ria, with re­ports Boko Haram may have kept some as sex slaves.

Med­i­cal tests would not only check for con­di­tions such as malaria but sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases, Ezekiel said.

Tu­rai Kadir, who helps in the in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple camps in the city, said the for­mer hostages were “not in great con­di­tion”. “All of them are trau­ma­tised,” she added.

“They’re hun­gry. They’re sick. One woman told me she was picked up from a mar­ket where she was sell­ing with her hus­band. They (Boko Haram) took them to the bush and killed her hus­band.

“They said they were go­ing to get her mar­ried to their mas­ter. There’s noth­ing more trau­matic than that.”

Medicine and food Bello said NEMA was re­ceiv­ing sup­port from a group of in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions with ex­per­tise in trauma coun­selling, in­clud­ing UN agen­cies and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee for the Red Cross.

At least 700 women and chil­dren have been freed in re­cent days from the Sam­bisa For­est, which the mil­i­tary says is the last re­main­ing Boko Haram strong­hold.

Yola has re­ceived hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple dis­placed by the Is­lamist in­sur­gency over the last two years, although many chose to stay with host fam­i­lies, rather than in camps.

Bello said re­sources in the camps, in­clud­ing medicine and food, are still suf­fi­cient to cope with the lat­est in­flux.

Ef­forts were un­der way to trace fam­ily mem­bers of those just res­cued, not­ing that most of the group are not from Adamawa state.

In the iso­lated cases where rel­a­tives have been lo­cated, res­cue agen­cies are try­ing to fa­cil­i­tate trans­port to Yola so es­capees can be re­united with loved ones, he added.

But the lo­gis­tics of such move­ments are com­pli­cated in the restive re­gion, where Boko Haram at­tacks re­main a threat, es­pe­cially on re­mote roads far from bet­ter-for­ti­fied state cap­i­tal. The hostages spent two days on the road in mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles af­ter they were res­cued be­fore reach­ing Yola, Bello said.

“What we are ac­tu­ally do­ing is try­ing to sta­bilise them,” he said. — AFP TU­NIS — Tu­nisia said se­cu­rity mea­sures have al­ready been taken to pro­tect Jewish pil­grims at a re­li­gious fes­ti­val next week on the is­land of Djerba, af­ter Is­rael warned of “con­crete threats”.

Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu said on Satur­day that Is­rael had learned of “con­crete threats” of ter­ror at­tacks against Jewish or Is­raeli tar­gets in the North African coun­try, prompt­ing a quick de­nial from Tu­nis.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Najem Gharsalli told jour­nal­ists in the hol­i­day re­sort of Djerba, which hosts an an­nual pil­grim­age to the Ghriba, Africa’s old­est sy­n­a­gogue, that se­cu­rity forces and the army were ready.

“They are here and the se­cu­rity plan is in place” for the May 6-7 pil­grim­age. Tu­nisia is a safe coun­try and Djerba too is a safe city. Vis­i­tors from the world over are wel­come. What I am say­ing now is a re­sponse to many who cast doubt over Tu­nisia’s se­cu­rity and its ca­pac­ity to se­cure cel­e­bra­tions,” he added.

A state­ment from Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice late on Satur­day said: “In­for­ma­tion in­di­cates that there are plans for ter­ror­ist at­tacks against Is­raelis or Jews in Tu­nisia” con­nected to the pil­grim­age.

Thou­sands of pil­grims visit the tombs of fa­mous rab­bis for the Lag Baomer Jewish Fes­ti­val, in­clud­ing on Djerba is­land, where one of the last Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the Arab world still lives.

Be­gin­ning 33 days af­ter the start of the Jewish Passover fes­ti­val, the Ghriba pil­grim­age used to at­tract thou­sands of pil­grims from France and Is­rael and other tourists.

But their num­ber fell dramatically af­ter an April 2002 bomb­ing blamed on Al-qaeda that killed 21 peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, the Ghriba sy­n­a­gogue was founded in 586 BC by Jews flee­ing the de­struc­tion of the Tem­ple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

Tu­nisian Jews now num­ber around 1,500, com­pared with an es­ti­mated 100,000 when Tu­nisia gained in­de­pen­dence in 1956. The Is­raeli Counter-ter­ror­ism Bureau said it was ad­vis­ing peo­ple against vis­it­ing Tu­nisia in view of the “threats”. But Gharsalli in­sisted that Tu­nisia can pro­tect vis­i­tors “bet­ter than any other coun­try”. — AFP

DOC­TORS at­tend to a sick child res­cued by Nige­rian sol­diers from Boko Haram ex­trem­ists at a refugee camp in Yola, Nige­ria on Sun­day.

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