Tunisia says Jewish pilgrims safe
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.