Boko Haram Victims Remain Displaced, Traumatized by Massacres

In run-up to Nigeria's general elections, scheduled for February 14 and then postponed to March 28 due to security concerns, Boko Haram has stepped up brutal attacks.

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People who fled the village of Gwoza, after an attack by Boko Haram, sit at a camp for internally displaced people in Yola, Nigeria, November 27, 2014.Credit: AP

For days, Ibrahim Fudama walked south with his wife and six children with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They set off without food and water. What kept them going was naked fear.

When Boko Haram insurgents attacked their village, Gawa, in north-eastern Borno State, the family fled into the forest and from there made their way 700 kilometers south, all the way to the capital, Abuja.

"They set my house on fire, walked through the streets, shooting, killing children, slaughtering men and women," the car mechanic recalls of the October attack.

The insurgents kidnapped his brother's wife and four children. His father was killed.

Today, the 34-year-old and his family live in a squatter camp on the outskirts of Abuja, without government assistance and little hope for the future.

"Life has become unbearable," Fudama says.

In the shack next door, Blessing John, 25, sits on a thin mat on a bare floor on which she sleeps with her two small children. At night, she wraps them in a few spare clothes to keep them warm.

John, too, fled a Boko Haram massacre. When the insurgents raided her village, Ngoshe, in Borno State, her husband was captured. John managed to escape with her children, despite being shot in the leg.

"We have no kitchen here, no toilets. We live on handouts. My children cry every day from hunger," she says.

In the run-up to Nigeria's general elections, which was scheduled for February 14 and then postponed to March 28 due to security concerns, the terrorist group has stepped up its brutal attacks.

The insurgents seized 130 villages and towns in the north-east in past months, a territory roughly the size of Belgium.

Nobody can say for certain how many people have been internally displaced due to the violence. Nigerian authorities peg the number at about 1 million, while the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates up to 1.5 million people have fled their homes.

About 150,000 others have sought refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, according to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).

The key northern city of Maiduguri, Borno's state capital, is bursting at the seams with fresh arrivals fleeing attacks, according to to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), despite the fact that Maiduguri is also frequently under attack.

MSF head of mission in Nigeria, Abubakr Bakri, says he has seen a "massive" number of people escape to Maiduguri in recent months.

"Most are women and children," he adds. "From the stories we are told, all men between the ages of 15 to 50 years are killed by the attackers."

A large portion of the displaced live in the homes of relatives. Others are dispersed among Maiduguri's ten camps.

Most are malnourished, traumatized and in need of immediate health care, says Bakri, putting pressure on the city's limited resources, while rescue workers struggle to cope with the sheer number of new arrivals.

"Lack of clean water and sanitation are becoming a problem all over the city, not only in the camps," says Bakri. MSF recorded 7,000 cholera patients in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, aid agencies are struggling to access thousands of displaced persons in remote, volatile areas.

Afraid of being targeted by Boko Haram anew, many of the displaced are too scared to settle in camps and prefer to squat in smaller groups, according to Abdullahi Mohammed, north-west coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency.

"Once they find any threats in their surroundings ... they flee the camps for fear of their lives," Mohammed told local newspaper The Nation.

That's the case for Solomon Benjamin, a 23-year-old business administration student, who was abducted by Boko Haram near the town of Potiskum in Yobe State in mid-January but managed to escape.

He now lives in a shack on the outskirts of Abuja. Even though he lives in dire poverty, Benjamin says he cannot imagine returning home or living in a refugee camp.

"I saw three corpses with their heads chopped off with a chainsaw. I struggle to sleep," he says. "I will only go home once Boko Haram is stopped. But when will this be?"  

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