UNHCR and flickers of hope in conflict-ridden Lake Chad Basin
Nearly a decade since its inception, the Boko Haram conflict has continued to see a rising human cost. In the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) region and the BAY (Borno, Adamawa, Yobe) States, it has displaced over 2.4 million people within this period, with 1.9 million of the displaced coming from Nigeria alone. In addition, some 228,500 Nigerian refugees have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger, which also have sizeable IDP populations in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) regions.
In Nigeria, The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has led international efforts in ameliorating the refugee and displacement crisis the conflict has left in its wake. Exemplifying, in no small measure, the continued relevance of a multilateral approach in solving the world’s many problems.
Every so often, when the country mourns (and rightly so) the death of military personnel, aid workers, and citizens felled by Boko Haram, very little attention is paid to refugees whose survival of Boko Haram’s devastation marks the start of a long, turbulent life in displacement. In the last three months of 2018 and this very January for instance, 320,000 persons have been displaced anew. Among displaced communities remains the risk of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), breakdown of family and community structures, changes in social and gender roles or responsibilities, and increased socio-economic vulnerability.
How these IDPs, displaced from their homes and from their livelihoods, are able to survive and rebuild their lives is a question that rarely features in the public domain. When communities are destroyed, leaving in their wake thousands of families displaced, carrying with them the trauma and tragedy of losing their homes and means of livelihoods, whom do they turn to and how do they begin to rebuild their shattered lives?
Given the scale of the crisis, Nigeria and other national governments in LCB have shown limited capability in handling the problem. Resources and institutional capacity are sometimes lacking. Against this background, UNHCR has provided tremendous assistance to refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers, providing material and psychological support, while strengthening the institutional frameworks that allow governments in LCB region relate better with the humanitarian crisis.
In fact, The Abuja Declaration, signed in June 2016 by the governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, following a Regional Protection Dialogue on the Lake Chad Basin serves as one of the most pivotal interventions of UNHCR.
In Borno State, for instance, closer collaborations have been developed with the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (MRRR), as well as the High Level Task Force, which is chaired by the deputy governor of Borno State. To facilitate freedom of movement for IDPs, the Nigerian government – National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), in partnership with UNHCR, has issued ID cards. In both 2017 and 2018, the agency launched a Refugee Response Plan (RRP), an inter-agency planning and coordination tool for large-scale refugee situations. Each of these funding appeals, although only partly successful, was no less instrumental in UNHCR’s ongoing efforts in ameliorating the predicaments of some 208,000 Nigerian refugees and 75,000 of their hosts in other LCB states
Presently, challenges in providing protection in the LCB still subsist. And while military operations have brought back significant areas in North-eastern Nigeria under government control, conditions in much of the Northeast are not yet conducive for the return of Nigerian refugees and IDPs, especially in Borno state.
This week, two years after the inaugural Regional Protection Dialogue, the organisation has embarked on a Second Regional Protection Dialogue, in the hope of building—together with governments in the Lake Chad Basin, a stronger and deeper partnership. To sustain its activities in providing food, water, shelter and protection to the most vulnerable people in Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, it would need $135 million to ensure that aid is not only available but that it reaches those who need it most.
With its recent launch of the 2019/20 Nigeria Regional Refugee Response Plan (Regional RRP), there is the expectation that this recent effort would broaden the UN Refugee Agency’s response towards a longer term approach, to support those forced to flee, the communities hosting them, ensuring that they are not displaced from life as they are from their homes.
Mitterand Okorie is a PhD candidate of Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies in UKZN, South Africa.