The Christian Science Monitor : 2019-02-11
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The insurgency has claimed nearly 30,000 lives, according to some estimates, displaced 2 million people across three northeastern states, and left 7.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. More than half of the displaced are children, according to Milen Kidane, head of child protection at UNICEF in Nigeria. And there is no end in sight: Despite government claims to the contrary, terrorist attacks and atrocities have intensified in the past few months and, with the recent murder of two aid workers, some humanitarian groups have suspended operations in parts of Borno.
Still, Boko Haram did not garner much international attention until the 2011 bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja. It gained even more notoriety with the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014. (Many of the Chibok girls have been freed, but about 100 remain in captivity.)
A 2016 assessment by International Alert, in partnership with UNICEF and other groups, punctured the myth of the happy reunion of the survivors with their families and communities. Studying conditions in four camps for those who have been internally displaced, they found instead that the girls and young women faced additional emotional abuse and sometimes violence when they returned.
Those who were gone for several years and who were married to combatants face the worst discrimination, Chungong says. Locals often assume that because they didn’t escape, they must be sympathizers. Some women did join Boko Haram willingly, although Chun- gong questions how “willing” it really is in a culture that dictates you follow your husband or risk being killed. “I mean, they weren’t physically forced, but it was under tremendous pressure a lot of them went.” Fatima’s life is divided into before and after. Before she lived in a quiet village in Marte and helped her family on their farm. During the chaos of Boko Haram’s attack, as villagers scattered, she and another girl found themselves in a car with three men escaping to nearby Dikwa. But the insurgents overcame them, murdering the men and taking the two girls to Sambisa Forest, where Fatima was held for three years.
At first Boko Haram kept her and other new captives separate from the militants, but she eventually agreed to marry the fourth in command. She says she had no choice – she was terrified. “Marriage is a kind of protection for you,” says Patience Shikson, a clinical psychologist who formerly worked with the small nonprofit Neem Foundation and who also served as our interpreter on this visit to the camp. “You don’t touch someone else’s wife.”
Fatima tried to escape three times, only to be caught and returned to the forest. On the fourth attempt, the insurgents were not so kind. They tied her and another girl up and dragged them behind motorcycles and left them for dead.
After she regained consciousness, bloody and weak, Fatima saw her baby nearby. “My mind told me I should just leave him,” she says. But she relented and struggled to carry him to a nearby village, where people cared for them. Fatima still does not know whether the other girl survived.
The Nigerian military sent Fatima to a transit center in Maiduguri, where newly freed or escaped captives are sheltered for several months and treated. Then she was transferred to Bakassi camp, where people from Marte have been relocated. The camps are organized by place of origin – entire villages have been transplanted – which is a mixed blessing, Chungong says: You are returning to your community, but everyone knows you have been with Boko Haram. And that makes the rejection even more painful.
Bakassi houses more than 26,000 people who have fled the violence carried out by both Boko Haram and the military. They are crammed into a messy mélange of flimsy tents or unfinished buildings. Except for a few struggling tufts of grass, everything is dust, which clogs your nose and coats your ankles. To get anywhere, you have to sidestep fetid puddles. Food and water are scarce, and proud, once self-sufficient Vehicles dart through one of the gates leading into Maiduguri, a city of more than 1.1 million people. VNEXT PAGE THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY FEBRUARY 11, 2019 27 | PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER PressReader.com +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW
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