Opinion: The plight of women and children in Nigeria’s IDP camps
YNaija, 08 Mar 2016
This piece is to mark 2016 International Women’s Day Celebrations and to remind the government and relevant authorities that in the midst of the celebrations going on globally today, some women and children are in deplorable conditions in some organized and unorganized displaced persons camps world over, including Nigeria.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are persons who have been displaced by natural disaster or conflicts from their homes and traditional support structure and have not crossed the borders of their countries.
In Nigeria, conflicts arising from the activities of Boko Haram in the North East has resulted in high threats to lives and properties, death of many and displacement of several people.
Statistics on IDPs in Nigeria
An overwhelming majority of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria are women and children. Even though there are varying statistics about the exact figure of internally displaced persons in northern Nigeria, all sources assessed indicated that, women and children constitute more than 50 percent of the Internally Displaced Camps formation.
In December 2015, Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre estimated that there are almost 2,152,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Nigeria (IDMC 2016). The IDP population is composed of 53 % women and 47% men. More than 56% of the total IDP population are children of which more than half are up to 5 years old, while 42% are adults. 92% of IDPs were displaced by the insurgency.
The majority of the current IDP population was displaced in 2014 (79%). The IDPs come mainly from Borno (62%), Adamawa (18%) and Yobe (13%). 87% of IDPs live with host families while 13% live in camps (DTM 2015).
Condition of IDPs
Lack of health care facilities is a major challenge in Bakassi, camp residents travel at least 40 Km to Calabar town to access medical treatment for common ailments like malaria, cold and catarrh. In that camp, only one elderly woman served as local birth attendant to all pregnant women in a population of about 2000 people.
In Grafton IDPs camp Sierra Leone, the camp residents are treated in the host community of Freetown as outcasts in their own country. In Budumburam camp Ghana, forced prostitution was the order of the day to enable women make ends meet for themselves and their families.
In Nigeria, the displaced persons are finding it difficult to regain pre-conflict way of living because of the poor living condition; faced with the rigors of long journeys, psychological trauma, safety challenge, harassment, frequent sexual abuse, children molestation, forced labour, poor sanitation which exposes members of the camps to infectious diseases, poor medical facilities which accommodate growth of infectious bacteria, fungi and virus in their bodies, poor feeding which exposes them to malnutrition, poor condition of infrastructure such as power, water, roads, lack of healthcare, security, education among other basic amenities, (Olawale, 2015). In all these, women and children are more vulnerable.
Vulnerability of Internally Displaced Women and Children
During President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to Malkohi IDPs camp in Yola in the southern part of Adamawa State in November, 2015 , the President described the condition of the IDPs as unfortunate; he said: “the children are the worst hit. The situation has caused anxieties especially when we sleep at night.”
Not only that, The Director General of NEMA, Mr Sani Sidi, told the President that: “at present, the camp had 80 pregnant women and 175 unaccompanied children”.
In the same vein, Marama, Yusuf & Ojeme in the Vanguard Newspaper of 18th February, 2015, reported that the Boko Haram insurgent IDPs in their respective camps were experiencing “incidents of unwanted pregnancies, rape, child labour/trafficking and sexually transmitted diseases”
The Premium Times News and Guardian Newspaper reported that all the 450 death caused by malnutrition recorded in 28 Borno State IDPs camps in 2015 were children. According to Mr Sule Mele (NEMA Executive Director) these children were between age one and five and 209,577 children were screenedfor various illnesses, including malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and vomiting. He said, about 6,444 severe cases of malnutrition were recorded in the camps, 25,511 have mild to moderate symptoms, while 177,622 among them were not malnourished.
Insecurity in IDPs Camps:
The level of insecurity in the camps in Nigeria is alarming, it’s a situation of running from insecurity to insecurity and that of double jeopardy. Yet to recover from psychological trauma of loss of families, friends and properties, displaced persons are faced with security challenge coupled with a responsibility to protect themselves in their various camps. The inadequacy of security at the IDP camps opens them to attacks from terrorists and armed robbers.
In recent times, IDP camps have been attacked by insurgents; in September 2015, the terrorist group, in a suicide mission, attacked members of IDPs Camps in Madagali and Yola killing 12 persons. In one of the attacks, bombs were reported to have been detonated inside a tent at the IDPs camp.
On September 11, 2015, seven people were killed in Malkohi camp near Yola in Adamawa state, on 31st of January 2016, at least 86 people were killed in Dalori, some 12 kilometers to Maiduguri, on 10th of February 2016, another 80 displaced persons were attacked and killed in an IDP camp in Dikwa, Borno state which houses about 50,000 displaced persons.
Considering these tough challenges confronting displaced persons and vulnerability of women and children, there is a need for an accelerated deliberate effort by Federal and State governments, “International Actors”, Non-Governmental Organizations and the private sector to collaborate in recovering and rehabilitating these displaced women and children at the shortest delay.
The present situation of IDP women and children needs assessment to determine what the agencies and the government can provide which include shelter, food, water, clothing, sanitation systems, healthcare, and protection. They need to be equipped and prepared by means of counselling, skill acquisition and training. This is to prepare them to survive physically, mentally and economically while in camp and when they leave the camps (Kasali, 2016).
For sustainability, IDP women require support that will help improve their self-reliance and reduce their reliance on aids, especially in the area of access to skill training and affordable microcredit for agricultural needs, business start-ups, and other short-term consumption needs; this will involve gradually integrating education, health, agriculture, and livelihood-promoting activities that link up with longer-term development programs which gives certain level of self-sufficiency and independence. Suggested skills for women include incomegenerating activities like tailoring, petty trading, handwork(soap making, shoe making, tie & dye, among others), farming etc.
For social integration back into the society, some IDPs will seek to return to their areas of origin (“return home”), some will prefer integration within current local areas (“local integration”), while others will prefer settlement in other states within the country (“outside integration”) to enable them begin the process of return and reintegration, IDPs will require assistance from local and state governments to construct or repair water systems, health systems, schools, and transportation routes.
In all, Displaced women and children should be involved in the entire process to guarantee a buy-in to the program (kasali, 2016).
As the government troops make significant progress in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists and peace is gradually been restored in North East Nigeria, it is imperative to speedily recover and rehabilitate women and children in these camps respectively. This effort will not only integrate them back into the various social structures, it will also eliminate tendencies of social vices that may result from idleness. In this process the following should be done:
Domestication of Kampala Convention:
The House Committee on IDPs and the National Assembly as a whole should embark on legislative processes that will lead to the domestication of African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention), which was ratified by Nigeria among other countries in 2009. This treaty reinforces the State’s primary responsibility to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced out of their homes due to conflict, violence, disaster and human rights abuse.
Comprehensive Humanitarian Action:
There is an immediate need for intensive humanitarian action. A comprehensive humanitarian action which will provide displaced women and children with welfare materials, health and education facilities, vocational training & tools of trade, empowerment programmes and security as well are needed. The government, international actors and private organizations should channel effort towards this.
Research towards Policy Formulation
Till date, this author is not aware of any thorough research and comprehensive data on IDPs and their condition Nigeria. Only trickles of information from different sources. To collate and analyse data to generate comprehensive result in this respect, international actors can engage indigenous researchers and NGOs dedicated to advancement of women and children in reaching out to displaced women and children in the NorthEast and other regions in the country.
Fortunately, a team of researchers of University Dons and other relevant stakeholders (including this author- who have done similar researches in various camps in West African States) are set to visit and collect necessary data in IDPs camps in Nigeria, to generate results that can be useful for policy formulation by the government and the international organizations, if partnership is secured from relevant body(ies).
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Biola Adimula, a Lawyer and a Peace Scholar, firstname.lastname@example.org