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Boko Haram: Over 1.8 million IDPs Scared to Return Home in Northeast Nigeria

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New report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has indicated that 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Northeast, Nigeria are too scared to return home.

The report released to newsmen on Wednesday, in Maiduguri revealed that about 90 percent of the people interviewed in the study carried out said they were not ready to return home, giving the incidences and continued attacks, contrary to claims from the Nigerian authorities, as reason.

“The findings of the report are undisputable. When 86 per cent of people tell us they aren’t ready to go home yet, we must listen. This cannot fall on deaf ears,” warned Jan Egeland, NRC Secretary General, who is visiting Nigeria.

”People must decide to return of their own free will. Coercing communities to move home is a deadly recipe set to worsen the conflicts.” he added.

According to the report, the intentions of 27,000 people were solicited for the report, which is one of the largest pieces of research carried out on the displaced population. The report was commissioned by NRC, in partnership with REACH, the Danish Refugee Council and the Protection Cluster in Nigeria.

About 90 per cent of people who are unwilling to return home in the immediate future cite insecurity as the main reason for staying put. Attacks against civilians are on the rise, and communities feel scared.

The Nigerian military recently gained ground in the fight against the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. In response, the armed group has stepped up attacks on soft targets, including markets and sites sheltering displaced people.

Many in Nigeria’s government are keen to see communities move back home. “While the end game is for communities to return home, the unfortunate truth is that pushing people back now will have harmful consequences,” said Egeland. “An overwhelming 85 per cent of people living in formal camps tell us they feel safer there than where they were before, despite the deplorable attacks on camps.”

“Today I met a woman in Monguno town who fled her village two years ago after Boko Haram set it ablaze. She’s eager to bring her six children home, but she told me it’s too soon, that the armed group are still present,” said Egeland.

Even if the security situation improves, half the displaced people interviewed say their houses were destroyed in the conflict. 48 per cent of people interviewed do not have information about the current state of their homes, indicating that this figure could be much higher.

The report recommends measures needed before Nigeria’s displaced can return home. Firstly, the overall security situation must improve so communities feel safe. In addition, resources must be channelled into rebuilding homes and re-establishing livelihoods. It is important that displaced communities are involved in developing these programmes.

“People need a roof over their heads and the prospect of making a living, if they are to have any chance of rebuilding their lives,” said Egeland. “We are ready to work with the government to help displaced Nigerian’s return home. But movements must be voluntary, safe and informed.”

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