IDP Crisis Swells in Nigeria
May 29, 2014
More than three million Nigerians have been displaced by political and ethnic conflicts. Thousands are fleeing to neighboring countries seeking shelter in refugee camps like this one in Niger.
Hakeem* stands outside the entrance of his sparsely-furnished tent, gazing beyond the rows of similar makeshift shelters, and points toward the western horizon.
“They came on a Sunday. It wasn’t a lot of men, maybe twenty, but they were well-armed,” he began, recounting the day his village was attacked by insurgents.
“We could not defend ourselves. They burnt everything we owned and killed people—men, women, and even children. They took three girls away with them into the forest,” Hakeem said.
Grateful that they were among the survivors, the Nigerian farmer and his family found sanctuary in a camp set up for internally displaced people (IDPs) in an adjoining state. Here they are protected by military personnel and feel relatively safe.
Living conditions, however, leave much to be desired. Cramped and unsanitary, the camps are breeding grounds for disease. No one gets enough to eat, as they must depend on humanitarian agencies for their next meal. Rations can only stretch so far, and sadly, the influx of displaced families continues.
“The rains have already started, but I cannot get home to plant crops,” Hakeem said, shaking his head in frustration. “When harvest season comes, we will have nothing to eat.”
Nigeria has the largest population of IDPs in Africa—some 3.3 million people—according to a recent report by the Internal Displaced Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Even more alarming, Nigeria is listed as having the third highest number of displaced people in the world, ranking behind Syria with 6.5 million IDPs and Colombia with 5.7 million IDPs.
According to the report, “Global Overview 2014: people internally displaced by conflict and violence,” Nigerians make up 10 percent of the world’s IDPs. The report also states that an estimated 470,500 people were displaced in Nigeria in 2013 alone.
The growing crisis is attributed primarily to brutal ambushes carried out by an Islamic rebel group on unsuspecting and unprotected villages in the northeast, where the organization wields the most power. Counter-insurgency operations by the government, ethnic conflicts, and natural disasters have also played a role.
Militants are believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 1,500 people in just the first three months of 2014 alone, according to Nigeria’s military. Over half of those killed were civilians.
The group’s terrorist tactics sparked national and international outrage in April when members abducted more than 270 students from a girls’ school in Borno state. Six weeks later the girls are still being held by their captors.
Increased attacks on villages and marketplaces during the past few months have prompted frightened residents to flee to guarded camps or to cross into Cameroon, Niger, and Chad.
Christian Aid Mission assists a Nigerian ministry that has been delivering basic supplies to families who relocated to displacement camps to escape the violence. During a visit last week to a camp, gospel workers handed out bags of rice, as well as clothing, hygiene items, and first aid materials.
As the workers reach out to meet material needs, they also spend time praying with hurting families who are believers and sharing the good news of Christ’s love with those who do not know Him. Their acts of compassion grabbed Hakeem’s attention earlier this month and led him to ask why.
“We are strangers to you, yet your concern is greater for us than our own government that collects our taxes. Why are you helping us?” he inquired.
After hearing about the Savior Who came to bring forgiveness and peace, Hakeem prayed to receive Jesus as Lord of his life. He thanked the ministry workers for their precious gift.
“If we had heard this message years ago, all the people in my village would have become Christians,” he said. “Please pray for me to follow your example and show kindness to others.”